All posts by Richard

April Meeting


Our speaker for the April meeting will be Gerard MacAtasney and his topic “Unionist reaction to the Easter Rising”. Gerard has spoken to the group on a number of occasions on the famine and on Sean MacDiarmada and his published a number of books on these topics.  His most recent bookTom Clarke: Life, Liberty, Revolution” is based around the correspondence of Clarke and tells the story of another one of the signatories of the Proclamation to be executed after the Rising.

Please note the talk will be on Wednesday, 6th April at 7:30 p.m.  This is a week earlier than we normally hold our meetings to facilitate the launch of Ted Fleming’s new book “On the Hill of Armagh: In and around the Cathedral” on the 13th April. For further details click here.

March Meeting

The March meeting will be held on Wednesday, 9th March in the Irish and Local Studies Library at the usual time of 7:30 p.m.

Bateson The speaker will be Ray Bateson, author of a number of books on gravestones and memorials. His most recent book “Memorials of the Easter Rising” is topical and describes the range of memorials both private and public throughout Ireland and further afield.

It includes the “Cricket Bat that died for Ireland” and if you can’t wait to find out more about that, check out The Cricket Bat that died for Ireland

AGM + February Meeting

he Annual General Meeting will be held on Wednesday, 10 February at the earlier time of 7:00 p.m. prior to our monthly talk.

The talk this month is by Dr Paddy FitzgPFerald from the Centre for Migration Studies, Omagh and is entitled, ‘Irish Internal Migration: a neglected aspect’.  It will commence at the usual time of 7.30 p.m. The talk covers migration mainly from 1600 to date and contains some material of local interest.

January Meeting

The January meeting will be held on Wednesday, 13th January in the Irish and Local Studies Library at the usual time of 7:30 p.m.

vikingFour members of the History Group will give short talks on topics that have caught their interest.

Gerry Oates will talk on the origin of the family name Mc Kitterick in the Armagh area entitled

‘Vikings in our midst’.

Stephen Day will give a talk on the experiences of a young South Armagh airman in the Second World War.

Mary McVeigh will give a talk entitled ‘Two Roses’ .

Richard Burns will talk about one rather eccentric member of his family tree George Charles Trimble.

December Meeting

Mag 3 3 The latest edition of History Armagh was launched on Wednesday 16 December at 7:30pm in the Irish and Local Studies Library. This took the place of our usual monthly talk.

A light supper was served after the launch.


History Group recalls Armagh’s Great Flood

Mag 3 3
Rarely published photographs of Armagh’s Great Flood of 1958 feature in the annual magazine published by Armagh and District History Group later this month.

The issue’s main feature runs to six pages as Kevin Quinn presents a pictorial celebration of the day the city was engulfed by water bursting through from the Scotch Street River, a.k.a. the Dirty River.

Using stunning photographs Kevin recalls not just the damage caused by the disaster but the humour with which it was greeted by Armagh’s citizens.

As the images show, children and teenagers took to boats as the Mall became a lake, and the “Fenian Submarine” that traversed the waters of Lower Scotch Street is recalled in song.

Other articles include the origins and development of Gough Barracks, and the influences of Armagh on the writing talents of Charlotte Brontë. Armagh’s connections to arguably English literature’s greatest woman novelist include a famous relative, Dr Max Brontë, who became one of the fathers of CSI (Crime Scene Investigations), and was a former player with Armagh Rugby Club.

Sport also features in another piece as Brian Weir marks the 50th anniversary this year of the entry into Irish League football by Armagh City FC (formerly Milford Everton). Brian looks back at the club’s development from a team of Milford and Armagh schoolboys to its emergence in competitive football.

The magazine will be in local outlets from December 16.

November Meeting


The next meeting of Armagh & District History Group will be held in the Irish and Local Studies Library on Wednesday 11 November at 7.30pm. The talk, ‘Armagh men in the Great War’ will be given by Joe Center from the Fusiliers Museum.

October Meeting

Eric Villiers investigates Armagh’s forgotten celebrities

Evidence that the success stories of up to 20 Armagh heroes, scholars and celebrities were deliberately written out of history will be unveiled at Armagh and District History Group next month.

The project, which has taken ten years to research, details the biographical histories of the writers, actors, painters, musicians, explorers, poets, soldiers, scientists and one or two villains, whose names have generally disappeared from British and Irish historiographies.

magee actorPatrick Magee  was an Irish actor and director known for his collaborations with Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter.  He was born Patrick George McGee in English Street, Armagh and educated at St. Patrick’s Grammar School.

Several generations of historians of the period from the mid-19th century to 1960 have unwittingly or wittingly excluded faces that did not fit their particular narrative. In consequence remarkable Armagh people from Irish Street, Scotch Street, English Street, the Seven Houses, Mill Row, Navan, Loughgall and Kilmore have never been properly celebrated.

Many of their lives intertwined with some of the world’s great literary figures including WB Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde and TS Eliot, while others connected to cultural icons as diverse as Charlotte Bronte, George Bernard Shaw, John F. Kennedy and Joseph Quincy Adams, the US intellectual and scion of a family that produced two Presidents.

The most sensational story is the secret liaison between the Armagh wife of a British War Minister and a German Baron inside a POW camp. Throughout WWI prison guards, who suspected she was bringing in fine wines and caviar to the Baron and two Counts, were prevented by War Office orders from searching her, opening her parcels or supervising her visits. Towards the end of the war, after nearly four years of secret meetings, the story was broken by a whistle-blower, and reverberated around the world.

Michael_CollinsAnother remarkable tale was uncovered during research into the life of William J. Lawrence, a one-time Armagh drinks salesman who represented Michael Collins during his 1921 election as County MP. Now, for the first time the exact moment Sinn Féin/IRA made manifest their philosophy of taking power with an Armalite in one hand and a ballot box in the other, has been identified. It happened on a night in May 1921 when Collins, instead of being on the steps of Armagh Courthouse to accept his election, was in a field outside Dublin test firing state-of-the-art Tommy guns – the first batch successfully smuggled in from America.

By then Lawrence, who never went to university, was the world’s leading expert on Shakespeare. Having been driven from Dublin by jealous academics, Harvard University discovered him washing dishes in New York hotels to survive, and gave him a professorship. However he couldn’t settle in America and returned to impoverishment in his beloved Dublin, before giving up and moving to London, where, in spite of winning a Civil List Pension, he died in poverty.

RussellOf the Armagh figures, the one who made the most impact – socially, culturally and politically – was Willie Lawrence’s friend George “AE” Russell, a poet, painter, playwright, writer, politician, co-operator and mystic. Although he was born in Lurgan he maintained that Armagh City was his spiritual home. His contemporaries regarded him as significant to Ireland as his life-long friend WB Yeats, but history has never given him credit as one of the architects of modern Ireland.

The most spectacular rise in Edwardian theatre happened to Armagh’s Mary Connolly, an ex-coal miner and street singer born in Irish Street. In the wake of the 1916 Easter Rising she swept to overnight fame as a mezzo soprano after being discovered by Dublin opera lovers, including Dr Vincent O’Brien, director of the Palestrina Choir and music tutor to James Joyce and Count John McCormack.

A publicity photo of Mary Connolly, The Dublin Street Singer taken in Liverpool.

At the height of her concert fame she starred alongside Walter McNally, the lead baritone from San Carlo Opera House, Naples, in a double bill that was a highlight of the Dublin social calendar. McNally went on to become a friend of John F. Kennedy, and was made European Head of RKO Pictures by Kennedy’s father Joseph, the movie mogul, whose mistress was the film star Gloria Swanson.


Three of the forgotten celebrities, John King, a 31-year-old explorer, John O’Connor, a 39-year-old writer and Victor J. Daley, a poet, ended their days lonely and forgotten in Australia. In 1861 newspapers hailed King as the country’s first great hero after he became the sole survivor of the first crossing of the continent, but his Irishness saw him disregarded; O’Connor produced a novel that remains a forgotten Irish classic, and in 1900 Daley was Australia’s most popular poet.

Three other names worthy of note were immortalised by James Joyce in Ulysses: Barton McGuckin, an international opera star who was educated in Armagh; Frank Harris, the Armagh schoolboy who became Oscar Wilde’s closest and most loyal friend, and William Brayden, son of a Scotch Street newspaper manager.

Frank Edwards, the journalist character in the hit television series Mr Selfridge, is based on Harris, while Brayden became a cultural giant in Dublin. In Ulysses Joyce devoted more than a page to describing his ‘Godlike’ demeanour.

An Armagh link that has been written out of the record is that the fountain of Charlotte Bronte’s literary talent rose in the mountains and hills of South Armagh. England’s foremost female novelist Charlotte Bronte was a great-granddaughter of Patrick Bronte a renowned writer and story teller.

One of Charlotte’s Armagh relatives also deserves mention as one of the fathers of CSI (Crime Scene Investigations). The scientist, Max Bronte, known more formally as Dr Robert Matthew Bronte, was born in Market Street where his father ran a drapery business. After playing rugby for Armagh Max qualified as a doctor and became Ireland’s state pathologist before moving to London.

Max became a celebrity pathologist in some of the London High Court’s most famous murder trials. Today the FBI in America still references his exposure of the previously unknown phenomenon that pressurises CSI personnel to alter their findings to help prosecutions bring in guilty verdicts.

Details of the research will be released at the History Group when they meet in the Irish and Local Studies Library, Abbey Street on Wednesday October 14 at 7 30. Anyone interested in attending is welcome and admission is free.

September Meeting

For our September meeting we hoped to reprise one of our successful events from last year.  Last year James Kane took the history group on a tour of Benburb, for our September meeting we had hoped to take a guided of the Moy. However due to the uncertainty of the weather we will be having a talk by James in our usual venue – the Irish and Local Studies Library at 7:30.