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1823 Thomas Francis Meagher was born in Waterford on this day in 1823. He was an Irish nationalist who had fought in the 1848 Young Irelanders’ rebellion. It was Meagher who first unveiled the Irish tricolour flag to the country. He had been given it as a gift by a group of French women who sympathised with the Irish struggle against the British. He unveiled it to the Young Irelanders when he returned to Ireland, and it became a symbol of Irish nationalism, although it wasn’t widely used until the Eater Rising of 1916.

Meagher was arrested and sentenced to death, but this was later reduced to transportation to Australia to work on the labour camps.

Meagher escaped from Australia and moved to America where he worked as a journalist. He raised support and awareness of the Irish struggle during the height of the Great Famine.

Meagher fought for the US Army in the American Civil War and rose to the rank of brigadier-general. He encouraged many Irish emigrants to join the US army.

Interested in discovering more about your Irish roots? This free online genealogy course with Strathclyde University shows you how to trace your family tree and also covers the use of DNA testing in genealogical research.

Once the war had ended, Meagher became Governor of Montana. He struggled in this position. He lost the respect of many of his rivals and followers when he allowed an Irishman to get off a manslaughter charge. He also had to deal with the frequent battles for territory between the native Americans, the European settlers and fresh waves of immigrants to the area.

Meagher died in 1867 when he fell over board from his boat as he travelled down the Missouri River. He drowned in the strong currents.

There were many theories about Meagher’s death. Some believed it was just an accident, others said he had fell overboard as he was drunk. Another possibility that was circulated was that Meagher had been murdered by a political rival, a former Confederate soldier or a member of a native American tribe. Years later, a man came forward claiming that he had killed Meagher for a fee of $80,000, but he didn’t say who had paid him, and later retracted his confession. Meagher’s body was never recovered.

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1851 George F. FitzGerald was born in Dublin on this day in 1851. He was a professor and physicist who worked at Trinity College. Fitzgerald spent much of his career studying the behaviour and impact of electromagnetisms. However, his most famous work was the theory of length contraction, commonly named after him and his colleague Hendrik Lorentz.

This is the theory that objects alter in length when travelling at a great speed, at least from the perspective of the observer. If you watch an object moving very quickly towards or away from it can appear flattened. Why is this? The Lorentz–FitzGerald contraction theory explains that the different parts of the object are sending light back to the observer from different points in its journey.

An example is if you are stood watching a ball travelling towards you. Whilst it is travelling it may appear to be a flatter shape than it is in reality. This is because, if you pause the action at any point and consider what you are looking at, the light from the front of the ball nearest to you has the least distance to travel to get to your eyes.

So it will reach you at the same time as the light from the top and bottom of the ball which would have been sent a moment earlier, when the ball was in a different position. Therefore the shape of the ball is distorted. What you are looking at is different parts of the ball from different points in time.

Interested in discovering more about your Irish roots? This free online genealogy course with Strathclyde University shows you how to trace your family tree and also covers the use of DNA testing in genealogical research.

Try and get your head around that one! It is a fascinating theory that is well accepted now by scientists. It was also the foundation for much of Albert Einstein’s work that led him to the theory of relativity.

Click here to read about more great Irish scientists

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1895 James Emerson was born in Co Louth on this day in 1895. He was a soldier who fought for the British Army in the First World War. He died on the battlefield in 1917, after heroically leading his men to repel the enemy when they were overwhelmingly outnumbered. Emerson was awarded the Victoria Cross after his death, the highest honour that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. This is an extract from the report on Emerson’s death, from the London Gazette:

“For repeated acts of most conspicuous bravery. He led his company in an attack and cleared 400 yards of trench. Though wounded, when the enemy attacked in superior numbers, he sprang out of the trench with eight men and met the attack in the open, killing many and taking six prisoners.

For three hours after this, all other Officers having become casualties, he remained with his company, refusing to go to the dressing station, and repeatedly repelled bombing attacks. Later, when the enemy again attacked in superior numbers, he led his men to repel the attack and was mortally wounded. His heroism, when worn out and exhausted from loss of blood, inspired his men to hold out, though almost surrounded, till reinforcements arrived and dislodged the enemy.”

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1916 Roger Casement was hanged at Pentonville Prison on this day in 1916. He was the last member of the Easter Rising leaders to be executed by the British government. Casement had been arrested shortly before the Rising, when he was trying to import guns and explosives for the Irish Volunteers to use in the rebellion.

Click here to read more about the Easter Rising

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1938 Happy birthday to Terry Wogan, born in Limerick on this day in 1938. Wogan is a veteran presenter on Irish and British television and radio. He is loved by almost all in the media, and by the public.

He is best known for hosting the British coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest for well over 30 years. Wogan’s sarcastic commentary and soothing voice made the show a must-see each year for fans, as the weird and wonderful musical entries from around Europe performed.

Wogan is also famous for being the host of numerous game shows and radio programmes. He presented Blankety Blank for many years, and is also a regular contributor to the BBC charity drive Children in Need.

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1945 Happy birthday to Eamon Dunphy, born in Dublin on this day in 1945. He is a former professional footballer and now works as a journalist, broadcaster and pundit. Dunphy played for Ireland 22 times and has described himself as “a good player, not a great player”.

He is now famous for being a harsh critique of modern players. He works as an expert pundit on Premier League, Champion’s League and international games. Dunphy has also written several successful books. His auto-biography Only a Game?: Diary of a Professional Footballer was highly praised for its open account into the lives and thoughts inside the dressing room.

He has also written a book about the formation of Irish rock Band U2, called Joshua Tree, and was the ghost writer behind Roy Keane’s controversial autobiography in 2002, in which he appeared to admit to deliberately harming an opposing player who had had a grudge against.

Click here to read about more great Irish writers


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More on Irish history

Did you know?

‘The most dangerous woman in America’ – ‘Mother Jones’ was an Irish emigrant who fought for worker’s rights, believing that working men should be able to earn enough money from a hard day’s work to provide for their families. Her efforts landed her in court, where the prosecution labelled her the ‘most dangerous woman in America’. Find out more.

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