1762 Edmund Ignatius Rice was born in Kilkenny on this day in 1762. He was the founder of the Christian Brothers, a religious organisation dedicated to helping and educating children. Rice turned his attention to helping others when he lost his wife early. She was involved in an accident, possibly falling from her horse but there is no record of the details. Rice was left a widow with a disabled daughter, who his wife had given birth to on her deathbed.
At this low point in his life, Rice began his lifelong work to help others in less fortunate circumstances. He built a school and recruited priests to teach in it. This was such a success that soon there were schools set up all over the county. The organisation was named the Christian Brothers, with their motto being:
“The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord forever.”
Rice died in 1844 at home near one of his schools in Waterford. There have been calls for him to be made a saint since his death.
Rice is associated with a ‘miracle’ that occurred in Newry in 1976. A man named Kevin Ellison was severely ill with a gangrenous colon and given just 48 hours to live. This was the agreed life expectancy of several doctors who had operated on him. Ellison’s family were given a relic of Edmund Rice by a Christian Brother named Laserian O’Donnell, and masses were said for him. He survived the forty eight hours and he was fully recovered after a few weeks.
Rice was beatificated by Pope John Paul II in 1996. His official feast day is 5th May.
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1798 The Battle of Bunclody took place on this day in 1798. It was a conflict of the United Irishmen’s Rebellion, as the rebels tried to secure the city of Wexford by fending off an attack from the British.
The city was occupied by the rebels, although there were British militia living there. However, the British presence in Wexford wasn’t enough to tackle this group of 5,000+ rebels without official military reinforcements.
The rebels were made aware of the upcoming invasion by the British, and took up positions to defend the main road into the city from nearby Carlow. They opened fire at the first sight of the British forces and forced them to retreat back to Carlow, without actually killing any.
The rebels marched into Wexford to celebrate their success. However, they were unprepared for a spontaneous attack from the British soldiers in the city. They sprang surprise attacks on the rebels. Upon hearing the gunshots, the British soldiers that had retreated to Carlow also stormed the city and in total around 400 rebels were slaughtered.
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1860 Hugh Thomson was born on this day in Londonderry in 1860. He was a skilled artist and did the illustrations for many top writers in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Thomson drew in black pen and was a master at getting a feel for a story and bringing the characters and their emotions to life.
He did the illustrations for major literary figures such as Oliver Goldsmith and Charles Dickens. Thomson illustrated much of Jane Austen’s work, in the most prolific spell of her career on novels Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park and Emma.
Thomson also did the illustrations for J. M. Barrie’s Quality Street, a partnership that one leading critic compared to that of Gilbert and Sullivan.
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1919 Éamon de Valera landed in America on this day in 1919 to try and gather financial and political support for the Irish Republican’s Brotherhood cause. The Irish War of Independence had begun earlier in the year, and the Irish nationalists were attempting to remove the British presence in Ireland to achieve an independent republic.
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2005 Geoffrey Toone died in London on this day in 2005. He was born in Dublin and had a long and distinguished career as an actor. He appeared as Sir Edward Ramsay in the 1956 film The King and I, where he famously danced with Deborah Kerr to the annoyance of the king.
Toone also had roles in classic British TV shows Dr Who and Only Fools and Horses. In his early career he also shared the stage with esteemed actor Laurence Olivier in various Shakespeare productions.
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2009 Vincent O’Brien died on this day in 2009. He is regarded by many as the greatest horse trainer there has ever been. He trained horses to victories in every major race in the UK and Ireland, most of them on multiple occasions.
The Cork-born trainer was named as the most influential figure in horse racing history by the Racing Post newspaper in 2003.