Discover Dark Age Galloway


‘In Galloway, on the fringes of what had been Roman Britain’s northern frontier, the kingdom of Rheged emerged in the fifth and sixth century AD.’

So says Discover Dark Age Galloway, a new leaflet produced by GUARD Archaeology for the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society. This attractive little publication is available free of charge from a number of tourist venues in the area.

It’s well-written and informative, and also nicely illustrated. The colourful reconstruction drawings of the hillforts of Tynron Doon, Mote of Mark and Trusty’s Hill, and of the monastic site at Whithorn, are certainly worth a look. As previously reported here at Senchus, last year’s excavations at Trusty’s Hill yielded a wealth of data relating to what was happening there in the sixth to eighth centuries AD. People of high status lived on the summit, in a settlement associated with a rock on…

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Castlekevin: life and death on a medieval frontier.

Irish History Podcast

avatar2Today, the long forgotten ruins of the medieval fortress and town of Castlekevin, situated in a remote valley in the Wicklow mountains, are serene and peaceful. There is little evidence of this scenic valley’s turbulent past. However in the early 14th century this castle became the epicentre of a ferocious struggle between Gaelic Irish and Norman Colonists in the Wicklow Mountains. This podcast is the fascinating story of the rise of Castlekevin, a colonial settlement deep in the foothills of the Wicklow mountains before charting its long and bloody battle for survival  when the surrounding region became a battlezone.

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The Gunpowder Plot


In 1604 England was a protestant nation, tough laws were in place to ensure this – A Catholic person had to practice Catholicism in secret, if caught they faced severe punishment, sometimes even death. A group of Catholics led by Robert Catesby wanted to end this Protestant rule. Catesby’s group consisted of Guy Fawkes, Thomas Percy, Thomas Wintour and Jack Wright. Catesby wanted to kill the King and all his followers, the perfect opportunity was the State Opening of Parliament, here the King along with his heirs and the government would be together in the Palace of Westminster, Catesby planned to blow the Palace up, and then he hoped all the Catholics would unite and take over the country.

The Plotters

Catesby had lodgings in Lambeth, which was on the opposite side of the river Thames, the group stored the gunpowder here, until a coal merchant decided to sell his cellar, which…

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Medieval Dublin; A Tale Of Two Cities

Irish History Podcast

By the late 13th century medieval Dublin had reached its zenith. Having benefited from over a century of trade, it was unquestionably the primary settlement in Ireland. While not the biggest walled town – it was surpassed by Drogheda and New Ross – its sprawling suburbs made it the most populous settlement with ten to fifteen thousand people living along the banks of the Liffey. Although it was the centre of Norman colonial administration, containing the exchequer buildings, it was not the busiest port, as judging from customs receipts, by the late 13th century this honour fell to New Ross.

While economically the wider Anglo-Norman colony reached its zenith between 1292-4, when the exchequer was returning around £9,000 per year, colonial society was already in decline. While Dublin was protected by the Vale of Dublin to its south and medieval county of Kildare to its west, and the Lordships of…

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Queen Victoria escapes would-be assassin’s attack on Constitution Hill

There was much shock in May 1849 across the United Kingdom and the British Empire at the news that there had been an attempt made on the life of Queen Victoria as her carriage passed along Constitution Hill in London by an unemployed and disgruntled Irishman named as William Hamilton.
Details of the attack on Queen Victoria were published in the News Letter in the paper’s edition of May 25, 1849 and declared in its opening lines: “We regret exceedingly being called on to announce that an idle miscreant raised his hand against the person of the Sovereign on Saturday evening as Her Majesty was returning from an afternoon through the parks.”
It was reported how Queen Victoria had left Buckingham Palace shortly after five o’clock in “an open carriage and four” to take a drive through the parks of the British capital. Her Majesty was accompanied in the carriage by their Royal Highnesses Prince Alfred and Princess Alice and Helena, and attended by the Honourable Miss McDonald. His Royal Highness Prince Albert, who was attended by his equerry, accompanied Her Majesty on horseback and General Wemyss was the equerry in attendance upon the Queen.

Royal family get-together: Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children in 1846.

Royal family get-together: Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children in 1846.

After accompanying Her Majesty round Regent’s Park His Royal Highness Prince Albert took leave of the Queen and, attended by his equerry, returned to Buckingham Palace. But it was shortly after His Royal Highness Prince Albert had left the side of his Queen and their children that the would-be assassin Hamilton struck.
The News Letter related how the Queen’s carriage had passed through Hyde Park and had gone no more than 300 yards Constitution Hill in the direction of Buckingham Palace when “a man in the garb of a bricklayer’s labourer, who was standing on the green sward within the iron railings” had “levelled a pistol” at the Royal carriage and “fired it at the moment the Queen was passing”.
The News Letter’s report continued: “Her Majesty heard the report [the pistol being fired] and looked round, but manifested no symptoms of alarm. The Royal carriage passed on, almost without the postillions being aware of the occurrence; but General Wemyss instantly pulled up, and rode towards the spot whence the report came.”
But before the general could reach the rails the miscreant Hamilton was “in safety custody” having been seized by first the park keeper named George Maulden, who was formerly an employee of Lord Palmerston, the then British foreign secretary, and then subsequently by a police constable, “to neither of whom did he make the slightest resistance,” noted the correspondent from London.
Indeed the correspondent went on to remark: “The villain was seized by one of the park keepers the instant after his was raised and the pistol that which he had just discharged having been taken from him, he was dragged off to the police station amidst the execrations of the crowd, who, not for the activity of the police officers and others, would have executed Lynch law upon the miscreant.”
Hamilton was removed immediately to police custody. The correspondent wrote: “The fellow was taken by the police to Buckingham Gate where a hackney cab was procured and [he] was then conveyed to the police station at Gardiner’s-lane, King-street, Westminster whither he was followed by General Wemyss, the park keeper (George Maulden) and other person who had witnessed the transaction which gave rise to his apprehension.”
During further police investigations into the attempt on Queen Victoria’s life that day the pistol that Hamilton was reported to have fired at Her Majesty was produced as evidence. The London correspondent described the pistol as “a small old-fashioned pocket pistol, which screws off and has a flint. It has the words ‘Clarke, London’ on it”.
The correspondent went on to give further interesting details in the weapon used in the assassination attempt. They wrote: “The weapon was examined by a gunsmith, and he was decidedly of the opinion that, when fired at Her Majesty, it was not loaded with [a] ball. The presumption that the pistol was not loaded with a ball is confirmed by what subsequently transpired, for, upon inquiry at the prisoner’s lodgings, 4 Eccleston-place, it was ascertained that he borrowed the pistol from his landlord that afternoon, saying that he was going into the fields to shoot some birds; and it further appeared that a little boy, who lives in the same house, furnished him with a halfpenny worth of powder.”
As news of the assassination attempt on Queen Victoria spread throughout London there was great relief when it was learned that the Queen and the Royal children had not in any way been injured.
At Her Majesty’s Theatre where a crowded audience attended a performance of Il Barbiere de Siviglia the opera was halted by Mr Lee, the official speaker of the theatre, who came forward and declared: “Ladies and gentlemen, under the impression that a portion of the audience may be labouring under the anxiety, and as a loyalty is here paramount to all other thoughts, I am commissioned by Mr Lumley to inform you, that, although Her Gracious Majesty and the Royal children were shot at whilst returning to the palace, they have (thank Heaven!) escaped unhurt.”
And what of “idle miscreant” Hamilton? What happened to him? He was charged under the 1842 Treason Act and he pleaded guilty and received the maximum sentence of seven years of penal transportation.
Hamilton’s attempt on the Queen’s life was not the last. In June 1850 Queen Victoria did sustain injury when she was assaulted by ex-Army officer, Robert Pate, who was believed to be insane. On that occasion Victoria had been riding in a carriage during a visit to Cambridge House in Piccadilly when Pate struck her with his cane, crushing her bonnet and bruising her. Pate was later tried; he failed to prove his insanity, and received the same sentence as Hamilton, and was sent to Van Diemen’s Land, which we know today as Tasmania.

A colossus of British Liberalism approaches the end of his life

The end was near for the liberal leviathan William Ewart Gladstone who was approaching death at his residence at Hawarden Castle, Flinthshire, Wales, in May 1898 reported the News Letter.
The News Letter published the following account of Gladstone’s condition which it had received courtesy of the Press Association who had themselves come by the details from “a trustworthy source”.
The account stated: “Mr Gladstone’s condition is one of increasing weakness, and the apprehensions that are being felt as to a fatal issue in the near future are based not so much on the progress of the local disease, which might run a course yet of another three weeks, as on a general failure of his powers. His circulation and pulse are sometimes very weak indeed. Failure of the heart’s action, which that condition implies, might cause death unexpectedly.”
The report continued: “On Wednesday night he was delirious and rambling, but on Thursday morning he was quite himself again, and partook of liquid nourishment. His inability to take sufficient food is, no doubt, the main cause of his weakness. He retains full possession of his senses.
William Gladstone (1809-1898) by John Millias 1885“Medical science has beneficially assuaged his pain, and with calmness and confidence he faces the future with absolute tranquillity of mind. Indeed the invalid has through the trial of affliction and racking pain found life to be such a burden that, despite the wrench of severance from those so near and so dear to him, he is willing and almost eager to lay it down. His fortitude, patience, and perfect faith in what future holds for him are described as being very beautiful.”
Another report on the condition of Gladstone came from a correspondent in Chester. They telegraphed: “From special inquiries made as to Mr Gladstone’s condition, I gather that it has assumed an exceedingly serious aspect. During the past two days Mr Gladstone has been growing so weak that delirium has occasionally supervened.
“Last night the bulletin, referring to inadequate circulation, betrays a suspicion that the end is drawing near. Yesterday morning Dr Dobie was summoned from Chester, and, with Dr H Biss, held a consultation at Hawarden Castle. Mr John Morley had, it is said, a pathetic interview with Mr Gladstone previous to leaving the castle yesterday. Lord Rosebery is staying at Hawarden.”
Meanwhile, at the annual conference of the Southern and South Western Counties Union of Women’s Liberal Associations which had been held this week in 1898 at Bristol a vote of sympathy with Mr Gladstone was passed and a touching reference was made to his great influence for “good and freedom”.
Gladstone was to die on May 19, 1898 at Hawarden Castle, aged 88. His death was registered by Helen Gladstone, his daughter, “present at the death”, on May 23, 1898.
The cause of death is officially recorded as “Syncope, Senility, certified by Herbert E S Biss MD” and not metastatic cancer, as is frequently reported.
“Syncope” means failure of the heart and “senility” in the nineteenth-century meant the infirmity of advanced old age rather than a loss of the mental faculties.
The House of Commons adjourned on the afternoon of Gladstone’s death, with A J Balfour giving notice for an Address to the Queen praying for a public funeral and a public memorial in Westminster Abbey.
The day after, both Houses of Parliament approved of the Address and Herbert Gladstone accepted a public funeral on behalf of the Gladstone family.
W E Gladstone’s coffin was transported on the London Underground before his state funeral at Westminster Abbey at which the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) and the Duke of York (the future George V) acted as pallbearers.
Two years after Gladstone’s burial in Westminster Abbey, his wife, Catherine Gladstone (née Glynne), was laid to rest with him.

Friends and foes mourn passing of Daniel O’Connell at Genoa

Rumours of the death of the Irish political leader Daniel O’Connell at Genoa, Italy while he was on pilgrimage to Rome had proven correct reported the News Letter in May in 1847. O’Connell drew his last breath at Genoa on Saturday, May 15, 1847, he was aged 71 years old.
The News Letter published a number of letters which gave “descriptive” details of O’Connell’s final hours. The first was penned by an English physician called Dr Duff which had been written from Italy on May 16.
Daniel_O'ConnellDr Duff wrote: “On Monday, May 10, I saw Mr O’Connell for the first time, and he was then suffering from profuse and involuntary diarrhoea, with great pain in the abdomen under pressure, strong rapid pulse, flushed face, etc. Mr O’Connell had also chronic, bronchitis of some years’ standing.
“From the remedies employed these symptoms were much ameliorated, and on the morrow he seemed convalescent. But from Mr O’Connell’s great repugnance to swallow even the most simple medicine, this state of improvement could not be followed up.
“On the evening of Tuesday, the 11th, the new symptom of congestion of the brain presented itself. Active measures were immediately had recourse to, and from them there was a decided improvement. Again the aid of internal remedies was denied, Mr O’Connell refusing to take any medicine.
“Towards the evening of Wednesday, the 12th, the symptoms increased; Mr O’Connell was restless, and sometimes slightly incoherent. Our former measures were again employed, but with slight success.
“During Thursday all the symptoms increased, with great tendency to sleep, from which, however, he could easily bemused; the breathing was much embarrassed; circulation became difficult, and in some degree indistinct, and the mind wavered. Thursday night was passed in a state of profound heavy sleep, with increased difficulty of breathing; and, in addressing those about him, he imagined himself in London, and spoke to them as if there.
“On Friday he was much worse, the breathing very laborious, the voice scarcely audible, and the words half formed; in fact, all the symptoms had increased. In this state he lingered on till Saturday night, seemingly conscious of the presence of those about him, but neither attempting to move nor speak.
“My treatment of Mr O’Connell was always in conjunction with Dr Beretta, of this place, and a young French physician, who had accompanied him from Lyons, and, on the day preceding his demise, we had the advantage of consulting with Dr Viviani, the oldest practitioner of Genoa, and of high repute.
“By his advice, and as a last resource, a further application of leeches to the temples was advised, but all was in vain; he expired last night at half-past nine o’clock (pm), apparently suffering little pain.
“During the whole time of our attendance upon Mr O’Connell it was with the greatest difficulty he could be induced to take medicine, or even necessary food, and he perseveringly abstained from drink for fully forty hours. Had this been otherwise, the period of his death might have been procrastinated, but his failing health and spirits, with constant tendency to cerebral congestion, rendered certain his death at no very distant period.”
The other letter, which was published by the News Letter, was one written by the Reverend Dr J Miley, O’Connell’s chaplain, to Maurice O’Connell.
The Rev Miley wrote: “May the God of Mercy sustain and comfort you – the worst has befallen us – the Liberator, your illustrious father – the father of his country – the glory and the wonder of Christendom – is dead! Dead! No, I should say rather, O’Connell is in Heaven, his death was happy; he received in the most fervent sentiments the last rites, and up to the last sigh was surrounded by every consolation provided by our holy religion.
“You are already aware from my last letter, and that which was written by Daniel at a later hour, how matters stood up to six o’clock on last (Saturday) evening. From that hour up to eight o’clock he continued to sink gradually, but without suffering. Daniel and me, and his faithful Duggan, he recognised to the last.
“Our supplications, in the sublime and consoling language of the church, were mingled with our tears, as we knelt around his bed. When at last his mighty voice was hushed, his countenance – his hands – responded to the prayers.
“At thirty-seven minutes past nine, the hand of the priest of God, privileged ‘to bind and loose on earth even as it is done in heaven’, was extended over him. There was no struggle – no change visible upon the features, except, that, as we gazed, it was plain that a dread mystery had cast its shadow over him.
“We are thrown upon our own counsels, with nothing to guide us but what we inherit from his conversations and casually expressed wishes. Acting on this we have determined to have the heart embalmed –placed in a silver urn and transported to Rome, as of old the heart of Robert Bruce was carried to Jerusalem, when it was not permitted him in by Providence to perform, in his own person, that pilgrimage to the holy sepulchre which he had vowed, as O’Connell had vowed, his pilgrimage to the tombs of the apostles. His body, also, is to be embalmed, and deposited in a chapel of the Church of our Blessed Lady, Delle Vigne, where it is to repose until, on our return from leaving the heart in Rome, we convey it to Ireland.”
Dr Miley concluded his letter to Maurice O’Connell by stating: “I should add that we are satisfied with the physicians. We are certain there was no mistake about the disease, and, but for the science and skill of the continental physicians, it must have had much sooner a fatal termination, or one still move afflicting. We have had a cast taken of his head, which has filled with wonder the physicians who have seen it.”