Today in Irish History – 1 February (Feabhra):

In the Liturgical calendar, today is the Feast day of St Brigid. Saint Brigid of Kildare or Brigid of Ireland (c. 451-525) is one of Ireland’s patron saints along with Saints Patrick and Colm Cille. Her feast day is 1 February or Imbolc, the traditional first day of spring in Ireland. She is believed to have been an Irish Christian nun, abbess, and founder of several convents.

1177 – John de Courcy invades Ulster and seizes Down; he defeats its king, Rory MacDonlevy, twice, even though the northern clergy use sacred relics as talismans on MacDonlevy’s behalf.

1315 – Edward the Bruce of Scotland and his Irish allies win the battle of Skerries in Kildare.

1754 – Denis O’Neal, having been convicted of a footpad robbery and sentenced to death, is executed on this date despite an appeal to the Chief Secretary by Charles O’Neill, MP for Randalstown, to have him spared.

1796 – Theobald Wolf Tone, United Irish leader, arrives in France seeking assistance.

1814 – The Belfast Academical Institution – later the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, a Presbyterian college – is opened.

1815 – Daniel O’Connell, having killed Norcot d’Esterre in a duel fought on this date, repudiates violence. Rosmanagher Bridge and Toll Gate were built by Henry D’Esterre in 1784 at his own expense. The large inscription stone on the bridge commemorates this piece of engineering. D’Esterre owned extensive lands in the region and the Ratty River hindered both farming and communication, especially as the nearest bridge was at Sixmilebridge. Despite objections that the structure would interfere with navigation on the river, Henry D’Esterre built his bridge and then tried to recover his costs by erecting toll gates on the western side of the river. Daniel O’ Connell refused to pay the toll according to local tradition and this was the reason given for his famous duel with Captain John D’Esterre. The duel, in which O’Connell killed his opponent. Norcot d’Esterre’s wife refused O’Connell’s offer of a pension, but he later arranged for an annuity for her daughter.

1859 – Birth of composer, cellist and conductor, Victor Herbert, in Dublin. Herbert was raised in Germany and later moved to New York, he enjoyed important careers as a cello soloist and conductor, he is best known for composing many successful operettas that premiered on Broadway from the 1890s to World War I.

1873 – Birth of John Barry VC. He was born in St Mary’s parish, Kilkenny and was by birth an Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

1878 – Thomas MacDonagh, patriot, poet, critic and scholar, is born in Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary.

1894 – John Ford (Sean Aloysius O’Fearna) is born in Maine to Irish immigrant parents. His father was born in Spiddal, Co Galway. His mother from the Aran Islands. Film site IMDb states “John Ford is, arguably, The Great American Director.” Although born John Martin Feeney, he never forgot his Irish roots.

1921 – Led by Sean MacEoin, the North Longford IRA ambushed two lorries of Auxiliaries at Clonfin Co Longford. A landmine was exploded under the lorries, followed by a two-hour firefight. Four Auxiliaries and a driver were killed and eight wounded. The IRA volunteers captured 18 rifles, 20 revolvers and a Lewis gun.

1921 – The first execution under martial law of an IRA man took place. Cornelius Murphy of Millstreet, Co Cork, was shot by firing squad in Cork city.

1922 – An RIC constable was shot dead in battle with the IRA in Killarney, Co Kerry.

1923 – Moore Hall in Co Mayo is burned down by Republican guerrillas, because its owner, Maurice Moore is a senator in the Dáil.

1925 – The Derry to Burtonport train crashes in Co Donegal, killing 14 people.

1943 – Establishment of the Central Bank of Ireland.

1969 – The New Ulster Movement (NUM) was formed. This pressure group was established to promote moderate and non-sectarian policies and to assist those candidates who supported Terence O’Neill, Northern Ireland Prime Minister, in the election on 24 February 1969.

1972 – Bloody Sunday aftermath: The country, declared a ‘national day of mourning’.

1972 – Edward Heath, British Prime Minister, announced the appointment of Lord Widgery, Lord Chief Justice, to undertake an inquiry into the 13 deaths on ‘Bloody Sunday’ (30 January 1972). The response of the people of Derry to this choice of candidate, was for the most part one of scepticism and a lack of confidence in his ability to be objective. Indeed a number of groups in Derry initially called for non-participation in the tribunal but many were persuaded later to give evidence to the inquiry.

1974 – Liam Cosgrave, Taoiseach, and seven of his ministers flew to Hillsborough, Co Down, for a meeting with members of the Northern Ireland Executive. The meeting agreed to establish working groups consisting of civil servants from North and South which would consider which ‘executive functions’ would be given to the Council of Ireland. The report from the civil servants recommended that only tourism, conservation, and ‘aspects of animal health’, should come under the control of the Council of Ireland.

1985 – John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), announced that he was accepting an invitation to a meeting with the IRA. Hume said he would urge the IRA leadership to end the campaign of violence. However he was heavily criticised by Unionists and others. The meeting took place on 23 February 1985.

1987 – Benson and Hedges Masters professional snooker tournament: Alex Higgins went head to head for the prestigious trophy. Higgins led 8-5 by the evening session, but Taylor won the last 4 frames to claim a 9-8 victory.

1994 – The US Government breaks its policy of “censorship by visa denial” and allows Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams to make a speech in New York City.

1998 – Up to 40,000 people march through Derry to commemorate the 26th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Some of the relatives of those killed on 30 January 1972 said the announcement of the new inquiry (on 29 January 1998) gave them hope that the truth would be uncovered. Some buses taking people back to Belfast following the march were attacked with stones as they travelled through the mainly Protestant village of Drumahoe, Co Derry.

1998 – It is announced that the partial filming of the Steven Spielberg film ‘Saving Private Ryan’ at Curracloe beach in Co. Wexford last summer brought over £4 million to the local economy. The Normandy D-Day landings of 1944 were re-created at the beach during four weeks of filming last July and August.

2002 – Thousands of commuters and motorists are stranded by freak tides, heavy wind and rain. Rush hour traffic grounds to a halt thanks to fallen trees, downed power-lines and heavy flooding.

2002 – John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), was presented with the Gandhi Peace Prize, India’s premier prize, at a ceremony in the president’s residence in Delhi. A jury chaired by Atal Behari Vajpayee, then Indian Prime Minister, unanimously decided to confer the award. Hume was described as a man who had been ‘instrumental in heralding a new era of justice, peace and reconciliation in Ireland’.

2003 – Roy Keane’s controversial autobiography is nominated at British Book Awards.

2008 – Taoiseach Bertie Ahern visits Ballymena to meet Northern Ireland First Minister Ian Paisley in his Co Antrim constituency. Dr. Paisley says the Taoiseach’s visit to north Antrim is a historic day, and Mr Ahern says his visit is another tangible benefit of the ongoing peace process.

2011 – Following the dissolution of the 30th Dáil by President McAleese on the advice of Taoiseach Brian Cowen, it is announced that a general election will take place on 25 February.

2015 – Death of Colum Corless. He was a hurler who played as a right corner-back for the Galway senior team.

2015 – Death of Patrick Aidan Heelan. He was a physicist and philosopher of science.

Photo: Northburg Castle is locally known as ‘Greencastle’, Co Donegal, Helen Brennan Photography

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