1838 John King was born in County Tyrone on this day in 1838. He was the sole survivor of the ill-fated Burkes and Wills expedition across Australia in 1860. The journey was from the south of the island to the northern tip, and then back again.
A series of arguments, bad decisions, torrential weather and bad luck resulted in all 19 men, 27 camels and 23 horses either quitting or dying except for King. He was one of the final three men taking part in the expedition. His two companions perished from malnutrition and dehydration.
King managed to stay alive with the help of the native Aborigines until he was rescued. He returned to the British colonies as a hero and was rewarded with a gold watch and a state pension.
However, the lasting effects of the expedition left King suffering with ill health for the remainder of his life.
See the fascinating full story of this ill-fated expedition
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1854 Nicholas Bain was hanged in Long Island, New York on this day in 1854. Bain had moved from Ireland to America to escape the starvation and disease of the ‘Great Famine’. He found work as a farm labourer for wealthy New York family, the Wickams.
Bain began a relationship with one of the Wickams housemaids named Ellen Warren. The head of the household, James Wickam, didn’t allow intimate relations between his employees and sacked Bain.
Bain responded furiously and attacked his boss with an axe, killing him. He then went on to kill the rest of the Wickam family, either driven by rage or trying to remove any witnesses who could have him convicted of the murder.
Either way, Bain was arrested and found guilty of multiple counts of murder. He was hanged until dead in Long Island on 15th December 1854.
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1917 Bernard Irwin died. He emigrated to New York and became a US Army medic. He helped rescue young boy held by Cochise of the Chiricahua tribe.
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1923 WB Yeats accepts the Nobel Prize for Literature.
WB Yeats – Nobel prize winner – short biography here
Yeats relationship with Maud Gonne
‘When You are Old’ + link to Notes and Analysis here
The Lake Isle of Innisfree with video of Yeats narrating the poem
Ireland’s 100 favourite poems Yeats has 25 poems in Ireland’s 100 favourite poems
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1930 Edna O’Brien was born in County Clare on this day in 1930. She is considered to be one of Ireland’s greatest writers of the 20th century. Her first book, The Country Girls, explored female sexuality and independence in Ireland in the years after World War II.
It was banned from publication by Irish censorship bodies, and O’Brien saw her work criticised, condemned and literally burnt in the street.
She left Ireland and moved to London, where her work was recognised as brilliant pieces of literature. O’Brien received countless awards throughout her career and her novels, poems and short stories have been read by millions around the world.
Click here to read about more great Irish writers
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1933 Sam Stephenson was born in Dublin on this day in 1933. He was an architect who designed several iconic buildings in and around Dublin in the 1960s and 70s. The Central Bank of Ireland building on Dame Street in Dublin was built in 1975. It broke planning permission rules by being too tall, and had to have the roof and upper floors removed at a later date.
Stephenson also designed the building for the Irish Electricity Supply Board. During construction, the remains of an ancient Viking castle were found on site, but the building went ahead despite protests from historian groups.
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1979 Happy birthday to Edele and Keavy Lynch, born in Dublin on this day in 1979. The twins were one half of the four piece girl band B*Witched, who had several hits in the late 1990s and early 2000s such as C’est La Vie and Blame it on the Weatherman.
Edele has since won the Irish version of Celebrity Apprentice and also appeared in the Big Brother house.
The sisters reformed B*Witched in 2012 for the ITV2 reality-documentary the Big Reunion, which saw several former boy and girl bands reform.
Click here to read about more Irish bands
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1983 Happy birthday to Jamie Heaslip, born in Israel on this day in 1983. He moved to Ireland as a child and grew up to play for the national rugby team. Heaslip made his debut in 2006, and was part of the side that won the Grand Slam in the Six Nations Championships in 2009, led by Irish legend Brian O’Driscoll.
Heaslip was also part of the Irish team that won the Six Nations in 2014, sealing the title with a dramatic 22-20 victory over France in Paris. He has also won the Heineken Cup in 2009, 2011 and 2012 with his club side Leinster.
Click here to read about more top Irish sports stars
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1994 The Venerable Edel Mary Quinn was an Irish lay missionary in Africa. On 15 December 1994, Pope John Paul II pronounced her venerable.
Short biography and her insightful quotes here