1836 William Sampson died in New York on this day in 1836. He was an Irish-born lawyer, who had been exiled from his homeland. Sampson was born in Derry and became a lawyer after studying in London. He was a Protestant, but was tolerant of all religions and was opposed to the mistreatment of the Catholics in Ireland.
Sampson represented several members of the United Irishmen in court, around the time of the 1798 Rebellion. He was arrested for his allegiance and after spending time in France and Germany, he eventually fled to America.
He wrote for different newspapers in Ireland – the ‘Northern Star’ (the newspaper of the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast) and to ‘The Press’, (the newspaper of the Society of United Irishmen in Dublin). He witnessed the execution of four soldiers of the Monaghan Militia. They repeatedly refused the offer of pardons if they would inform against their comrades. This is an extract of a poem he wrote about the incident;
I saw a dismal Sight, I saw them brought
Solemn and silent to the bed of death.
From slavish hirelings they received the shot,
And yielded up to Heaven their native breath.
Oh truth and honour where must ye be found?
Hot in the palace or glittering court.
You rather dwell within the lowly cottage
And with the simple and the poor resort.
In America, Sampson was involved in a ground-breaking case involving the privilege of confidentiality in Catholic confessions. A suspect was accused of receiving stolen goods, and the police questioned his priest in the hope that he would be able to provide evidence from the suspect’s confessions.
Sampson defended the suspect and argued that the priest could not be coerced into breaking the confidentiality of the suspect’s confession. He eventually won the case and the confessional privilege was accepted for the first time in a court of the United States.
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1846 William Henry Kearns died on this day in 1846. He was a skilled violinist, conductor and composer who was a well-respected member of the London opera scene in the early 19th century.
Kearns played the violin in the Covent Garden Opera House Orchestra for several years before the opera he composed himself, The British in Brussels was performed in the English Opera House. It was a success, and generated much publicity and praise for Kearns.
Kearns didn’t compose any more operas of his own, but instead became a consultant and contributor for numerous other productions by London’s top musicians and performers.
Click here to read about more of Ireland’s top musicians
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1880, the trial of Charles Parnell and others for conspiracy begins on this date. The Times newspaper published “Parnellism and Crime” – accusing Home Rule League leaders of being involved in murder and outrage during the land war on the evidence of forged letters (forged by Richard Piggott).
Parnell was cleared and The Times compensated him with a large undisclosed amount of money after Parnell brought a libel action.
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1891 Augustus Nicholas Burke died on the 28 December 1891, in Florence, aged 53. He painted portraits and landscapes of Connemara. He also travelled to the Netherlands and painted some Dutch landscapes.
His brother, Thomas Henry Burke, Under-Secretary for Ireland, was murdered in the Phoenix Park Murders in 1882. After that he moved his family from Dublin to live in England, and then finally moved to Italy.
His famous painting, Connemara Girl, shows a young Irish colleen who gathers heather on a hillside overlooking the sea in Connemara.
His two most famous paintings, Connemara Girl and A Connemara Landscape are in the National Gallery of Ireland.
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1938 Frank Kelly was born in Dublin on this day in 1938. He is an actor who has had a long and distinguished career. Despite being a generous and articulate man, Kelly is probably best known for his role of Father Jack Hackett in the comedy Father Ted.
Kelly is a much-loved actor in Ireland. He has fronted an advertising campaign for Taytos crisps, and appeared in the opening scene of the Italian Job, as the prison officer escorting Michael Caine’s character from the prison. Kelly also had a cameo role in Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie.
Click here to read about more Irish actors
Video with the full episode of Father Ted in A Christmassy Ted
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1969 Happy birthday to PJ Holden, born in Northern Ireland on this day in 1969. He is a professional artist and has created cartoons and graphics for several popular comic books such as Judge Dredd and the 86ers.
Holden worked on the graphics for the controversial comic app Murderdrome, which was banned by Apple for its extreme content. Despite the ban, Holden and his colleagues were praised by some for the innovation of the first comic specifically designed to be read on iPhones or other mobile devices.
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1980 Happy birthday to Chantal Gibney, born in Dublin on this day in 1980. She started swimming from a young age, and honed her skills while competing for the Florida Gators team in America where she had earned an athletic scholarship.
Gibney qualified to represent the Irish team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She competed in four different events but unfortunately was unable to gain a medal.
Click here to read about more top Irish sports stars
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2011 Michael O’Neill was named as the new manager of the Northern Ireland football team on this day in 2011. He became the first Catholic man to manage the country in more than 50 years. The appointment was seen as a significant political step towards a permanent end of the Troubles between extremist Catholic and Protestant groups.
O’Neill started his reign with disappointing 3-0 and 6-0 defeats to Norway and the Netherlands respectively, but has since turned the side’s fortunes around. O’Neill has overseen impressive victories for Northern Ireland such as the 1-0 win over Russia, and a 2-0 away win in Greece.