1780 Miles Byrne was born on this day in County Wexford in 1780. He took part in the Irish Rebellion in 1798 as they tried to break free from British rule. Byrne attended a meeting between Robert Emmett and Thomas Cloney in which they discussed the best way forward for the Irish nationalists. He described how inspired he felt as a young 18 year old man, witnessing discussions between two of Ireland’s nationalist leaders:
“I can never forget the impression this meeting made on me at the time – to see two heroic patriots, equally devoted to poor Ireland, discussing the best means of obtaining her freedom.”
After the rebellion failed, Byrne was forced to flee to France. He joined Napoleon’s army and became head of the Irish Brigade. He was successful in conflicts in Spain and Greece and was awarded the Legion of Honour for his bravery.
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1856 John Lavery was born on this day 20 March 1856 in Belfast. He was orphaned when he was three and had an unsettled childhood – he stayed with various relatives in Co Down, Ayrshire and Glasgow.
He was a painter and studied in Glasgow and Paris. He was commissioned as a royal artist when Queen Victoria attended the Glasgow International Exhibition. This projected him into the public eye and he moved to London where he received many commissions and became a sought after society portrait painter. He mainly painted many portraits including Winston Churchill to John McCormack (famous singer of the song Danny Boy).
He was selected as an official war artist in World War I, but ill health and a serious car crash prevented him taking up this post. He was knighted in 1918.
He became interested in his Irish heritage and indirectly involved with the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. He lent his London home to the Irish negotiators during the talks of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. After Michael Collins was killed, Lavery painted Michael Collins, Love of Ireland, now in the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery.
Lavery donated many of his paintings. When the Ulster Museum opened – he donated 35 of his paintings. Affter he died, his widow gave a collection of his work to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery.
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1914 The Ulster Volunteer Force received a boost on this day in 1914. The UVF was a newly formed paramilitary group in Northern Ireland, opposed to the IRA and their wishes for self-governance for Ireland.
The British government was in the process of preparing the Home Rule Bill, which would grant Ireland the right to govern itself. However, they anticipated that this would provoke the UVF into taking military action against them.
In order to crush this potential rebellion, the government sent reinforcements to the British Army base in Curragh, County Kildare.
Sir Arthur Paget, Commander-in-Chief of troops in Ireland, was called to London and informed that any resistance from the UVF must be dealt with immediately by the army. He relayed this message to his officers in Curragh, and told them that any with homes or family in Ulster could be excused from the operation. Any that had a moral objection could also be relieved.
Out of 70 officers in the Curragh Brigade, 57 of them made themselves unavailable for the mission.
The incident forced the British government to postpone plans for the Home Rule Bill. It was a massive confidence boost for the UVF and its supporters, and the walkout became known as ‘The Curragh Mutiny’.
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1919 The first ever lion used by MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) in their opening sequence before a film begins was born on this day in 1919 at Dublin Zoo. Caibre, who later became known as Slats, served as the ferocious mascot for the film company from 1924 to 1928.
He was also the only lion that has appeared in the films that doesn’t roar, as films were silent in those days. Instead Slats just poked his head through the hole in the logo and looked scary.
Goldwyn Pictures Corporation was founded in 1916 by Samuel Goldfish and producers Edgar and Archibald Selwyn – they merged their surnames to create Goldwyn. Samuel Goldfish had his name legally changed to Samuel Goldwyn.
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1964 Brendan Behan died on this day in 1964 aged just 41. He was one of the wittiest and most imaginative writers that Ireland produced in the 20th century. Unfortunately he drank heavily throughout his life and died from alcohol related illnesses.
He was once asked to come up with a slogan for a Guinness promotion campaign, in return for a few crates of the beer. When the Guinness people visited him to see what he had come up with, he was sitting on the floor surrounded by empty cans and screwed up bits of paper. He looked up at them and said: “I’ve got it, Guinness makes you drunk!”
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1993 Ireland beat England 17-3 in the final game of the Five Nations Championships on this day in 1993.
Fans packed in to Lansdowne Road to cheer on the team, and the victory ensured they ended the tournament on a high after a disappointing start.
Watch the only try of the game, scored by Mick Galwey.
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2006 On this day in 2006, a team of doctors at the University of Dundee led by Irish Professor Irwin McLean, identify the gene responsible for the skin condition, eczema. The discovery is considered to be a huge step towards finding a cure for the disease.
Click here to read about some of the achievements from great Irish scientists throughout history