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1798 The Battle of Ovidstown took place on this day in County Kildare in 1798. It was fought between the British military and the United Irishmen. It was one of a number of battles of the failed rebellion that year.
The rebels had taken much of County Kildare because the British had prioritised their military force in other counties such as Wexford and Meath. However, the British felt that it was now time to regain complete control of Kildare and sent a troop of about 400 soldiers to Kildare.
The United Irishmen leader William Aylmer organised his men, nearly 4,000, along the sides of the main road into the town of Kilcock at Ovidstown Hill. The plan was to ambush the British and tackle them before they got a chance to get into the town and destroy the rebel strongholds.
However, the British had superior weaponry and forced the rebels to retreat with heavy musket and cannon fire. The rebels were ordered to charge again by Aylmer as it appeared the British were struggling to reload their weapons. The charge got so far but the rebels were too indecisive as to whether to go headlong into a sword and pike battle or hold their position.
This hesitancy gave the British enough time to sort out their weaponry issues and unload a shower of cannon fire and musket shots onto the rebels. Hundreds were killed and the rest fled the scene before they met the same fate.
The battle was a huge victory for the British military. Not only did they win, but the demonstration of superior weaponry and leadership boosted their morale, while shattering that of the disillusioned rebels that had survived.
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1841 George Arthur French was born in Roscommon on this day in 1841. He was a member of the British army who was sent to Canada as a military inspector.
He was responsible for organising the newly formed North West Mounted Police Force. He led them from their creation in 1873 up until it was considered they were trained up to manage themselves three years later.
French was transferred to India to form an efficient British defence of its territories. He then travelled to Australia to do the same job and got married and settled down, working as part of the British defence there.
When he retired from the army, French returned to England and spent the rest of his life working as part of a security team guarding the crown jewels in London.
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1897 Charles Boycott died. He was an unpopular agent for English landowners in Ireland.
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1913 Julia Clifford was born on this day in County Kerry in 1913. She was born into a musical family, with her father being an accomplished flute and fiddle player. Clifford and her brothers were taught to play the fiddle by local musician, Padraig O’Keeffe.
Clifford moved to Scotland and married, but returned to Ireland to compete in the All-Ireland fiddle championship at Mullingar in 1963, which she won. She, and her brothers would regularly perform and are considered to have played a major part in maintaining traditional Irish folk music, at a time when advances in technology meant the rock ‘n’ roll sounds from America were becoming readily available.
Clifford, and some of her family, featured on numerous Irish folk albums such as Kerry Fiddles, Paddy in the Smoke, The Star above the Garter and The Humours of Lisheen.
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1957 Happy birthday to Kevin Wallace, born in Limerick on this day in 1957. He is a producer who has worked with the biggest figures in world theatre, including Andrew Lloyd Webber, Antonio Banderas and Sarah Brightman. Wallace has been at the top end of stage and musical productions for 20 years, and has worked on some of the most successful shows the West End has ever seen.
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1983 Happy birthday Aidan Turner, born in Dublin on this day in 1983. He is an actor, most recognisable to audiences as Kíli from The Hobbit fantasy trilogy. Turner has also starred in television series such as Being Human, The Clinic and The Tudors.
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2005 Michael Davitt died on this day in 2005. Not to be confused with the Irish nationalist and co-founder of the Land League of the same name. This Michael Davitt was a poet, who published his work in the Irish language. He was born in 1954 in Cork and studied Celtic history and the Irish language. He has been described as ‘one of modern Ireland’s finest poets in either of the nation’s languages’.
He moved to Dublin and worked as a teacher while continuing to write. Much of his work explores the conflict between traditional values and modern life demands. Davitt once said:
“What is important is to continue believing in the Irish language as a vibrant creative power while it continues to be marginalised in the process of cultural McDonaldisation.”
Davitt went on to work as a presenter for RTÉ in the mid-1980s, and gave up teaching to concentrate on his writing. For the final few years of his life he enjoyed life living in both Ireland and France with his wife.