Irish History Bitesize
Proclamation of Irish Independence prints

July 20


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1616 Hugh O’Neill dies on this day in Rome in 1616. He was a leading figure in Ireland throughout his life, as the head of the O’Neill clan of Ulster. He fought against the English to defend his territory during the Nine Years War, which ultimately ended with him being forced to flee to Europe.

Hugh_O_Neill_2nd_Earl_of_Tyrone leader of the O'Neill clan-Image-copyright-Ireland-Calling

The English eventually gained the upper hand in the war, and O’Neill, as well as other Irish clan leaders, left in what became known as the ‘Flight of the Earls’. O’Neill hoped to restart the war by building an army of Catholic soldiers from Europe, but he never managed to gain enough military support, and died while in Rome.
Learn more about the history of the name O’Neill
Learn about the history behind hundreds more Irish names

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1902 Jimmy Kennedy was born in Omagh, Northern Ireland on this day in 1902. He was a lyricist and is famous for putting words to existing music to create the globally known songs Teddy Bear’s Picnic and My Prayer.

Kennedy began writing poetry from a young age, using his surroundings as his inspiration. He studied at Trinity College Dublin and moved to England to work as a teacher. He also served in the British Army during the Second World War and used his experiences to write lyrics. He wrote the wartime hit, ‘We’re Going to Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line’.


He teamed up with skilled composers such as Michael Carr, Hugh Williams and Nat Simon to create countless hits. He wrote over 2000 songs and 200 of these were hits around the world. Fifty have become popular music classics.

At one time, Kennedy held the record of being the most successful Irish or British music writer in terms of having hit songs in America. Eventually, John Lennon and Paul McCartney of the Beatles took that record from him.
Here’s some nostalgia – Teddy Bears Picnic sung by Anne Murray.

Click here to read more about Irish songwriters

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1904 Molly Keane was born in Co Wexford on this day in 1904. She was a novelist and wrote several books, sometimes under her married name, Molly Keane (Good Behaviour and Time After Time) and sometimes under her pseudonym MJ Farrell. Several of her novels have been adapted for television and the stage.

After her husband died, Keane moved to Waterford where she lived with her two daughters. Her book Good Behaviour was named on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize. Keane passed away in 1996 and is buried in her home village of Ardmore, Co Waterford.

Molly Keane Image copyright Ireland Calling

Click here to read about more Irish writers

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1908 Vincent Coll was born in Gweedore, Co Donegal on this day in 1908. He moved to New York with his family while he was still a child. He grew up to become a ruthless gangster and mob assassin. He worked for mafia boss Dutch Schultz as his enforcer, and the two were a formidable team. Schultz used his influence in the city to get Coll off a murder charge after he had allegedly killed a bar owner.

The two men fell out when Coll began to carry out crimes on his own, and Schultz refused to give him status as an equal partner in the business. Coll formed his own organisation and funded it by kidnapping rival gangsters for ransoms, knowing that the crimes would never be reported to the police.

He was also accused of being a ‘baby killer’ after a child was caught in the crossfire of one of his crimes, and died. The Mayor of New York labelled Coll a ‘mad dog’, a nickname that stuck with him.


Coll was eventually killed himself when he was shot dead whilst on the phone to a rival gangster. Coll had phoned Owney Madden to demand $50,000 from him, warning that unless he was paid he would kidnap Madden’s brother-in-law. Madden kept Coll on the line while he traced the call, and sent three of his own henchmen to murder him.

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1981 Happy birthday to Damien Delaney, born in Dublin on this day in 1981. He is a professional footballer who has played in the English Premier League for Leicester City and Crystal Palace. Delaney has a reputation as a no-nonsense centre half. He has received praise throughout his career for his bravery, commitment and also his intelligent reading of the game.

He has won promotion from three different divisions during his time in England, and his consistent performances were recognised in 2009 by then-Irish boss Giovanni Trappatoni who gave him his international debut. Delaney was part of the Republic of Ireland squad that won the only ever Nation’s Cup tournament, contested between the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The Republic won the tournament by beating all three other teams, without conceding a goal.

Click here to read about more top Irish sports stars

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1998 Adele Chapman left Birmingham Children’s Hospital on this day in 1998, to return home with her family to Derry in Northern Ireland. She had become the first ever child to receive a triple-organ transplant in Irish or British history.

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Chapman was seven years old when she received a new liver, pancreas and small bowel in a ground-breaking series of operations. She remained in hospital for 12 weeks after the surgery, before being considered fit enough to go home.

She made a full recovery and posted a message on the internet ten years later to give the world an update and tell them she was doing great.


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