05 November-John Byrne VC DCM

John Byrne VC DCM was born in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, Ireland on September 27th 1832. At the age of 22 he was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry while serving as a private in the British Army during the Crimean War. The Victoria Cross is awarded for ‘most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy’. The Victoria Cross has been awarded to 168 soldiers from Ireland, six of whom were born in Kilkenny.

Having moved from Castlecomer to Coventry in England to find work John Byrne, at the age of 18, enlisted in the British Army on July 27th 1850. It appears he breached regulations during his first years in the army and was imprisoned on two occasions. He was released and joined his regiment, the 68th Light Infantry, when it set sail for the Crimea on in August 1854. In November 1854 Byrne’s regiment was involved in the Battle of Inkerman. When his regiment was ordered to retreat during the battle John Byrne went, under fire, towards the enemy lines at great risk to his own life, to help a wounded comrade to safety. Five months later on May 11th 1855 Private Byrne’s regiment was involved in a battle near Sebastopol in the southwestern region of the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea. During the battle Private Byrne, in defending his position, engaged in a hand-to-hand combat with a Russian soldier. He killed the soldier, captured his arms and prevented a breach of the British defences.

Private John Byrne was awarded the Victoria Cross Medal for his acts of bravery and promoted to the rank of Corporal. His award was presented to him by Major-General Sir George Buller on July 22nd 1857 while his regiment was stationed on the Island of Corfu.

John Byrne later served with the British Army in New Zealand where he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). In 1866 he was promoted to Sergeant and after having served for twenty one years in the British Army was discharged in Cork in 1872.

In 1878 at the age of 45 John Byrne began working for the Ordinance Survey in Wales. A year later he was involved in a dispute with a fellow workman called Watts whom Byrne accused of insulting the Victoria Cross. On July 10th 1879 he fired a pistol at Watts, wounding him slightly. Byrne himself died a few hours later in tragic circumstances. He is buried at St Woolos Cemetry, Bassaleg Rd. Newport, Monmouthshire, Wales.

Private John Byrne, Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery at the battle of Inkerman during the Crimean war in the year 1854 On This Day.

Victoria Cross by Defence Images on 2012-10-01 14:10:51

Castlecomer by gabig58 on 2015-10-25 12:07:58

25 October-Balaklava

Daniel Dowling, who was born in Carlow, Ireland in 1832, was one of the survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaklava in 1854. He enlisted in the British Army in January 1854 and became one of the cavalrymen of the Light Brigade. Shortly thereafter England, France and Turkey formed an alliance to drive Russia out of the Baltic and Crimea. During the Battle of Balaklava a mix-up in orders resulted in about 670 members of the Light Brigade riding directly into the Russian guns, in what Tennyson in his poem called ‘the valley of Death’.

Having survived the Crimean War, Daniel Dowling later served with the British Army in Africa, India and Australia. He resigned from the British Army in 1865 and moved to America. He died on July 15th 1913 at the age of 81 in Utica, New York. A copy of the poem, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ was found among his possessions.

The Charge of the Light Brigade took place in the year 1854 On This Day

Balaklava photo


Photo by covilha

16 October-Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was a playwright, novelist, and poet who was a native of Dublin, Ireland. As a writer he is best known for his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and his play The Importance of Being Earnest. Apart from his writing, his wit and lifestyle made Wilde one of the best known personalities of his time.

Oscar Wilde was born Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born at 21 Westland Row, Dublin in 1854. He was educated at Portora Royal School at Enniskillen and at Trinity College Dublin. Following graduation from Trinity, Wilde was awarded a scholarship for further study at Magdalen College in Oxford.

Having completed his studies at Oxford in 1878, Wilde moved to London where he began writing poetry. In 1882 he travelled to North America where he spent almost a year on a lecture tour. He spent the following year on the lecture circuit in Ireland and England before taking up a post as editor of a woman’s magazine.

During his time as editor Wilde began writing what would be his most famous works. By 1890 he was one of the most successful playwrights of his time. In February 1895 the Marquis of Queensbury accused Wilde of being a sodomite. Wilde sued him for slander but lost.

In the trial which followed Wilde was found guilty of gross indecency and sentenced in May 1895 to two years of imprisonment. On being released he moved to France where he died on November 30th 1900. He is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Oscar Wilde, playwright, novelist, and poet, was born in Dublin in the year 1854 On This Day.




01 May-Percy French

Percy French was a native of Co Roscommon, Ireland. He is regarded as one of Ireland’s greatest ever songwriters. French was also a famous entertainer and watercolour painter. He painted the watercolour, ‘Where ever I go my heart turns back to the County Mayo’ in 1902. It was sold by Dublin art auctioneers Whytes in 2005 for €44,000.

Percy (William) French was born at Cloonyquin House near Tulsk, County Roscommon in 1854. He was educated at Foyle College, Derry and in 1872 he began studying civil engineering at Trinity College Dublin. However at college French appears to have devoted much of his time to song writing, dramatics, painting and learning to play the banjo. He wrote his first successful song for a ‘smoking concert’ (live performance) in 1877. The song, which was called Abdul Abulbul Amir, became very popular but made only £5 for the writer.

French graduated from TCD as a civil engineer in 1881 after nine years at the University. He was employed as Inspector of Drains with the Board of Works in County Cavan. While working in Cavan he indulged his passion for painting and wrote two of his famous songs: ‘Phil the Fluter’s Ball’ and ‘Slattery’s Mounted Fut’. When he lost his job with the Board of Works in 1887 he began working as editor a weekly comic paper called ‘The Jarvey’. However the paper failed and French began his career as a fulltime entertainer and songwriter. He married Ethel Moore in 1891 but both his wife and daughter died a year later.

French became famous for songs such as Gortnamona and The Mountains of Mourne. In 1893 he married Helen Sheldon and they had three daughters. By 1900 he had become a well-known and very successful performer in Ireland. He began to tour successfully in the theatres of cities all over Britain and in 1910 he toured North America and the West Indies. He returned to Ireland each year to perform in towns and holiday resorts around the country. On one occasion he advertised a concert in the town of Kilkee in County Clare but was delayed getting to the venue because a train of The West Clare Railway broke down. He was awarded £10 damages and the incident led to him writing one of his most famous songs: Are ye right there Michael?

In January 1920 Percy French was giving performances in Scotland. Whilst giving a series of concerts in Glasgow he contracted pneumonia. He moved to live with his cousin in the town of Formby near Liverpool. He died a few day later at the age of 65 on January 24th 1920.

Percy French was born in the year 1854 On This Day.

Percy French





06 March-Washington Monument Pope’s Stone

The Washington Monument in Washington DC was built to commemorate George Washington the first President of the United States of America. At 170m it is the tallest obelisk in the world. The Monument attracts over half a million visitors each year. It contains memorial stones from international donors. One of those is the Washington Monument Pope’s Stone.

The Washington National Monument Society was formed in 1832 on the anniversary of the birth of George Washington. Following a period of fundraising a competition was held in 1836 to design a memorial and the cornerstone of the Monument was laid on July 4th 1848. Donations ran out and construction stopped in 1854. By then the monument had reached a height of 46m.

Requests were made for donations in either money or memorial stones to help in the building and the decoration of the monument. Almost 200 memorial stones were donated from all over the United States and from countries around the world. Pope Pius IX donated a marble stone one metre long by half metre high. It came from the ruins of the Temple of Concord in Rome which had been built in 366 BC. The stone was engraved with the words ‘FROM ROME’ and arrived in Washington DC in October 1853.

The anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic ‘Know-Nothing Party’ objected to the stone being used in the Monument. Nine members of the party broke into the grounds of the Washington Monument. They stole the stone and dumped it in the Potomac River. Following the American Civil War building recommenced in 1877 on the Washington Monument. It was finally completed and was dedicated on February 21st 1885. The monument was opened to the public on October 9th 1888.

The memorial stones, other than the ‘Popes Stone’, were built into the east and west interior walls so that they can be easily viewed by people ascending the monument. One hundred and twenty eight years after the first stone had disappeared the Vatican, during the reign of Pope John Paul II, donated another stone to replace the first. It was placed in the interior of the west wall of the Washington Monument 103m above ground level. The inscription on the stone reads ‘A ROMA AMERICAE’ which is Latin for ‘Rome to America’. A dedication ceremony to mark the occasion of the new stone being placed in the Washington Monument was held on November 16th 1982

The Washington Monument ‘Pope’s Stone’ was stolen and dumped in the Potomac River in the year 1854 On This Day.


The Washington Monument photo

The Washington Monument & Reflecting Pool by ArtBrom on 2008-04-02 15:46:05