The Rotary Centenary Part 2: The Sheridans

Peter Sheridan, Chief Executive of Co-Operation Ireland, is Chairman of the Irish Peace Centres, a consortium of four peace organisations: Glencree Centre of Peace and Reconciliation: the Donegal Peace Centre at An Teach Ban: the Corrymeela Community and Co-operation Ireland, who cultivate and sustain positive relationships across traditional sectarian and social divides throughout Ireland. He spoke of his disappointment that most of public housing in Northern Ireland was still segregated. There were 88 peace walls and 3 more in preparation. He warned about the community “sleep walking” back into violence. He said we needed “Cathedral Thinking”, building a strong foundation for peace which might not see results for many years. He spoke of serendipity in his meetings with Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. Peter, a former Police Officer, had risen through the ranks from Constable to Assistant Chief Constable. He had assumed responsibility for the Crime Operation Department in February 2006.

He spoke of the unsolved murders that had occurred in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. I told him of the death of Charles II and he put this into his speech. At the time of his sudden and unexpected death there had been many rumours that Charles II had been poisoned, a suggestion which most of the historians of the period dismissed with brief contempt. But I feel that the available evidence suggests that this is worthy of examination. There were fourteen physicians around his sick bed at the time of Charles’ death, who contradicted each other in their diagnoses. One of the physicians, however, Dr Thomas Short, a devout Roman Catholic and a man of great learning and integrity, declared to some of his most intimate friends that he believed that there had been foul play at the death of Charles II. Later on Dr James Welwood, Physician to Queen Mary, the wife of King William III, gave a number of arguments in favour of the suggestion that he had indeed been poisoned.

A post-mortem examination has been said to show no evidence of poisoning but the examination was directly mainly to the brain. The oesophagus, stomach and intestines were never examined at all, in spite of the severe abdominal pains of which the stricken King had complained. One must be suspicious especially when one of the physicians present asked about the stomach and bowel he was reproved for his “needless curiosity”. There can be little doubt that the death of Charles II was very opportune for James, Duke of York, and his supporters. If he had lived for only a few weeks longer the Protestant Duke of Monmouth might have been recalled to court, the Duke of York sent to Scotland or abroad as has had been done before, unpopular ministers dismissed and a new Parliament summoned. The whole history of Ireland would have been changed.

It is certainly true that Charles himself had no suspicion of being poisoned, but towards the end he could hardly speak. It was not unusual at the time for public opinion to attribute an unexpected death of a King to poisoning. For example James I was accused of poisoning his heir Prince Henry who actually died of typhoid fever. Even King Charles I was accused of poisoning his father James I. Nevertheless in the case of King Charles II a number of circumstances would make one suspect poisoning, although the verdict three hundred years later cannot be more certain than “not proven”.

In my own speech I spoke of Cavan’s association with the Sheridan family, of which Helen Dufferin, Duchess of Gifford, was a member. Lord Dufferin has written of these origins in A Sketch of my Mother, which he appended as a preface to his edition of his mother’s Songs, Poems and Verses, 1894.

The Sheridans originated from Co. Cavan, East Breffny as it once was, part of the old kingdom of Breffny, not originally part of ancient Ulster. The nine county configuration including Cavan was a product of the Elizabethan administration. However, the famous 36th Ulster Division of our own time included soldiers from throughout this recent nine county configuration and should be remembered as such. I spoke of Old Ulster, reminding everyone that Wes Armstrong originated from Monaghan and like our Sergeant-at-Arms Roddy Armstrong was descended from the Ulster Cruthin clan, the Uí Labhradha, Our hotel contained a Setanta restaurant and a Conal Caernach room and this was also a reminder of the Ulster Cycle of Legends, first written in Bangor, about those heroes of the Cruthin . Rather than considered as “border counties”, I emphasised that Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan should be thought of as a cultural corridor between the north and south of our island.


Ed: Many thanks, Ian. Yet you don't mentioned Richard Brinsley Sheridan, one of the most famous playwrights of the English language yet a major political fiugure as well. Helen Dufferin descends from the playwright and may have inherite

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