1816 County Donegal-born poet Frances Browne was born on this day in 1816. She caught smallpox at eighteen months which caused blindness. She was known as The Blind Poetess of Stranorlar. She was a top author of children’s stories, and her most famous work is the collection of short stories, Granny’s Wonderful Chair which is still in print.
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1822 On this day, 16 January 1822, Thomas Clarke Luby was born in Dublin.
He was a founder member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood whose aim was to overthrow the British rule in Ireland and to establish an Irish Republic. He was often called the The First Fenian.
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1909 Edgeworth David, Douglas Mawson, and Alistair Mackay from Ernest Shackleton’s expedition reached the South Magnetic Pole. This expedition were the first to climb Mount Erebus, and they discovered the Beardmore Glacier (named after Shackleton’s patron).
Shackleton became a public hero on his return home. King Edward VII invested him as Commander of the Royal Victorian Order and he was knighted in the king’s Birthday Honours list in November. The expedition left Shackleton deeply in debt. The government gave him a grant of £20,000 (~ £1.5 million) to pay off most of his debts.
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1913 On this day in 1913, Ireland moved a step closer to an independent state, as the Home Rule Bill was passed in the House of Commons. However, it was rejected two weeks later in the House of Lords leading to further frustration for Irish nationalists.
Three years later they attempted to overthrow the British in the Easter Rising 1916.
Click here to read more about the Easter Rising
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1916 James Connolly entered into three days of negotiations with IRB to plan the Easter Rising.
Find out more about Connolly (his execution, for which he had to be strapped in a chair because of he was weak from being wounded in the Rising, still resonates as a powerful image)
1919 Prohibition began. A nationwide ban in the United States of the sale, production and importation of alcoholic beverages began. It remained until 1933. There had been a huge number of immigrants, many from Ireland, to the larger towns and cities of the United States. Many members of the prohibition movement associated these immigrants with rising crime.
Prohibition led to the rise of lawlessness and the ‘gangs of New York’ emerged, including Gentleman Jack (Jack “Legs” Diamond), an Irish American gangster in Philadelphia and New York City, and Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll – an Irish American mob hitman.
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1920, Percy French – one of Ireland’s most prolific and successful songwriters, gave his final concert in Glasgow (he died on 24 January 1920). Like many song writers, French was naïve when he started out. He sold his first great song Abdul Abulbul Amir for just £5. Many of his songs gave a social commentary on the changing life in Ireland in an amusing, popular way. He has left a brilliant legacy of songs; Mountains of Mourne, McBreen’s Heifer, Phil The Fluther’s Ball plus many more.
Read more about his life and how song writing gets him into trouble.
French, however, considered himself primarily as an artist and his water-colour paintings are still popular and being sold for thousands of euros today.
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1922 Dublin Castle is taken by the new Irish government on this day in 1922, after they won their bid for independence from the British.
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1934 Annie Patterson died in her home in Cork on this day in 1934. She was born in County Armagh, Northern Ireland and studied music at Dublin. In 1889 she became the first British woman to hold a doctorate in music. Patterson worked as a music teacher and composer, and had ten books published.
Click here for more on Irish music
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1981 Irish socialist and republican political activist, Bernadette Devlin McAliskey and her husband were shot by gunmen who burst into her home at Coalisland, Co Tyrone. She had 14 bullet holes in her – she joked: “I’ve been run over by a sewing machine.” She suffered a broken leg and a punctured lung, and one bullet just missed her heart. The three gunmen were caught and jailed.
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1981 Beverley O’Sullivan was born on this day in Dublin in 1981. O’Sullivan was a talented singer and actress and was part of the girl band Fifth Avenue. She successfully auditioned to be in the group, despite the fact that she was partially deaf in one ear. Fifth Avenue toured with Westlife for three years. Tragically, O’Sullivan was killed in a traffic accident in November 2009, while holidaying with her boyfriend in India.