The Irish whiskey barons, the Jamesons, were one of the premier families of the British Empire in the 19th century but they were shaken to the core by a scandal involving cannibalism in deepest Africa.
James Jameson was one of the heirs to his family’s vast fortune, but he had little interest in distilling whiskey. Since childhood he had been fascinated by nature and spent most of his spare time sketching birds and butterflies in the countryside of his native Co Sligo.
Cathal Brugha was an Irish nationalist and a key figure in the Easter Rising, the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. He also held positions in the Irish parliament, and was the first Chairman of Dáil Éireann. He took the anti-treaty side in the Irish Civil War and bled to death on 7 July in 1922 after being shot in the leg by the Irish Free State Army. Continue reading “Cathal Brugha – Irish revolutionary and politician”
Arthur Vicars was an English heraldic expert who has gone down in history as the man who had the Irish Crown jewels stolen from under his nose. He was cleared of any involvement in the theft but he never recovered his reputation. He was shot dead during the Irish War of Independence by the IRA who alleged that he was an informer. Continue reading “Arthur Vicars and the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels”
The Wexford Martyrs were a small group of Catholic rebels who refused to take the Oath of Supremacy, which declared Elizabeth I of England to be the head of the Church. They were found guilty of treason for aiding the escape of James Eustace, Viscount Baltinglass, who had supported the Desmond Rebellion against the British. They were hanged, drawn and quartered in 1581, and were beatified by Pope John Paul II more than 400 years later. Continue reading “The Wexford Martyrs – rebels against the English Crown”
Frederick Edward Maning was born in Ireland but rose to prominence as one of the early settlers in New Zealand. He won the trust of the native Maori people and helped them negotiate with the British, who were colonising the country in the mid-19th century.
Thomas John Barnardo was an Irish doctor who set up the world famous Barnardo’s charity providing help and care for homeless children across the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. He began the charity in 1866 and it has since grown into a multi-million pound project providing more than 900 services for vulnerable young people in Britain. Continue reading “Thomas Barnardo – Irish founder of Barnardo’s charity”
Oliver Plunkett was Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland in the years after Oliver Cromwell had ravaged the country and the public practice of the Catholic faith was outlawed. He was executed in 1681 due to the ‘Popish Plot’ that had nothing to do with him.
Paul Boyton was a world famous adventurer and showman, known as ‘The Fearless Frogman’. He specialised in daring stunts and challenges across water and set up the United States Life-Saving Service, a forerunner of today’s Coastguards. He also developed a water sports park that became the forerunner of the Luna Park centres.
Boyton was born on 29 June in Co Kildare in 1848. He moved to America after spending much of his teen years serving in the US, French and Mexican navies. He came across a rubber suit, similar to today’s wetsuits while in Atlantic City. It was to change his life.
The suit was designed as a flotation device as it could be inflated to allow the wearer to float to the surface. Boyton was extremely impressed, and realised its potential as a piece of life-saving equipment.
He toured the world showcasing the suit and its potential to save lives. Boyton was a shrewd commercial operator. He began swimming across many of the world’s major waterways, using only his suit for buoyancy.
His swimming feats were so remarkable that he became a global celebrity and was greeted by thousands of fans when he visited a new town.
Some of his extravagant swimming feats included crossing the English Channel in 24 hours, travelling 430 miles along the River Rhine, and floating down the Mississippi River from Alton, Illinois to St Louis.
Tragic death of his friend Odlum
Boyton was involved in the tragic death of his friend and fellow swimmer Robert Emmet Odlum. Odlum had decided he would jump from Brooklyn Bridge into the water below, to prove to people that falling from a great height would not kill you if done correctly. His motive was to save lives of people unwilling to jump from burning buildings into nets below, through fear of dying as they fell.
Odlum also hoped the stunt would make him a celebrity and offer him and his mother some financial security. The jump took place on 19 May 1885, but ended in tragedy. Odlum’s body was slightly turned by a strong wind as he fell.
Instead of hitting the water with his feet and his body in a vertical line, Odlum landed on his side which caused him terrible injuries. Boyton swam out to bring his friend to safety, but he died from severe internal bleeding after rupturing several major organs.
Odlum’s mother blamed Boyton for her son’s death, accusing him of being the one who persuaded him to do the stunt. Boyton denied this and sent her a letter disclaiming responsibility, which was also published in the New York Times.
Mrs Odlum claimed Boyton had destroyed letters he had sent to her son, convincing him to go ahead with the dangerous jump. Boyton denied this and had a lawyer and a judge warned Mrs Boyton that she had to stop her public accusations or face a slander charge.
Paul Boyton’s Water Chutes
Boyton continued his career as a celebrity and entertainer. He opened a water circus and toured the country.
Next, he opened an amusement park, called Paul Boyton’s Water Chutes. It was the first park of its kind and the first to charge an admission fee. A sea lion park soon followed, with the animals and trainers performing shows.
Boyton sold his sea lion park in 1902, and it was re-branded as the first of what would be the successful franchise of Luna Parks. Boyton was also forced to close his Water Chutes Park after major amusement parks were beginning to steal his customers, and he lacked the finances to compete.
Paul Boyton died on 19 April, 1924. His legacy was to have inspired public interest in swimming and water sports. He is remembered in the International Swimming Hall of Fame, and was one of the first people to see the potential of water activities as a source of entertainment.
Irish soldiers were a key part of the British Army for hundreds of years up to the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922. They helped Britain win numerous battles, most famously perhaps, the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.