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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Execution of Major Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith

geoffrey-lee-compton-smithMajor Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith (DSO) of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers is captured and executed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 30, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

Compton-Smith was born in 1889 in South Kensington, London. After finishing school, he decides not to follow the family tradition of studying law. He actually wants to become an artist, but his father insists that he join the army. He studies at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and during World War I his regiment is sent to France. In 1917 he is wounded at the Battle of Arras, but he continues to fight on. He is awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). In 1919 he is sent to serve in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence.

In 1919 Compton-Smith is commander of the British Army base at Ballyvonane, near Buttevant, but he is also an intelligence officer. As an officer he also sometimes presides over courts martial. In January 1921, for instance, three IRA volunteers are tried by him for involvement in the ambush at Shinanagh, near Charleville, and he sentences them each to six months.

February 1921 is a bad time for the IRA in County Cork. They suffer major losses at the ambushes at Clonmult and Mourne Abbey, and several volunteers are taken prisoner, four of whom are sentenced to death. The IRA believes that these death sentences might be commuted if a British officer is held as a hostage. This leads to the capture of Compton-Smith. On April 16, 1921 he travels to Blarney, supposedly on a sketching trip but actually to meet a nurse in Victoria Barracks with whom he is having an affair. The IRA has spies in Victoria Barracks who likely tip off the IRA that Compton-Smith is coming to Blarney. A squad led by Frank Busteed easily capture him after he gets off the train.

Busteed then meets with Jackie O’Leary, the IRA battalion commander. It is decided that Donoughmore is the perfect place to keep a hostage, because parts of the parish are remote and the IRA is strong there.

On April 18, under the cover of darkness, Compton-Smith is transferred by car to Knockane House, an abandoned big house in Donoughmore. The following night he is moved again, this time by pony and trap, to Barrahaurin, a remote townland in the Boggeragh Mountains. He is kept there for the last eleven days of his life, on the small farm of Jack and Mary Moynihan. He is held prisoner in a shed, always under guard. Every evening he is brought into the house, where he eats and stays at the fireside. He and his guards have conversations about history and politics.

The four IRA prisoners are executed on April 28, 1921. On April 30, O’Leary informs Compton-Smith that he is going to be executed. He then writes a final letter to his wife. He tells her that he will die with her name on his lips and her face before his eyes and that he will “die like an Englishman and a soldier.” He also writes a letter to his regiment and one to Lt. General Strickland.

After finishing his letters, Compton-Smith is led up into Barrahaurin bog behind the Moynihan house, to a place where his grave had already been dug, and is given a final cigarette. In his witness statement Maurice Brew writes, “When removed to the place of execution he placed his cigarette case in his breast pocket of his tunic … He then lighted a cigarette and said that when he dropped the cigarette it could be taken as a signal by the execution squad to open fire.”

It is not until late May, following the discovery of the cache of letters in a Dublin raid, that the Compton-Smith family is informed of his death. His father, William, then starts a campaign to find his son’s body. He wrote letters to MPs and to the British Army, seeking information and help. He also writes to Erskine Childers but gets no reply. He offers a reward of £500 for information, but only The Irish Times agrees to print his advertisement.

In November 1921 a cousin of Compton-Smith’s wife, Gladys, meets Michael Collins in London and asks him for help in finding the body. Correspondence between Collins and the Compton-Smith family suggests that Collins is trying to help in 1922, but he fails to get any results before he is assassinated at Béal na Bláth later that same year.

On March 3, 1926 Compton-Smith’s grave is discovered by the Gardaí. The newspapers report that the remains, because of the conditions of the bog, “were not so badly decomposed as to render identification impossible.” The body is brought to Collins Barracks in Cork. On March 5 the Gardaí send a telegram to the Compton-Smiths, informing them that the body has been located.

The reburial of Compton-Smith is carried out with great dignity on March 19, 1926. The Irish Army escorts the coffin from Collins Barracks to Penrose Quay, where British forces from Spike Island take the coffin on board a boat. While the boat travels down the River Lee, the Irish Army’s guard of honour presents arms and sounds the “Last Post.” The British then bring the coffin to Carlisle Fort, near Whitegate, where it was buried in the in the British Military Cemetery with full military honours.


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Death of Michael Joseph O’Rahilly

michael-joseph-o-rahillyMichael Joseph O’Rahilly, Irish republican and nationalist known as The O’Rahilly, dies in Dublin on April 29, 1916 during the Easter Rising. He is a founding member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and serves as Director of Arms. Despite opposing the rising, he takes part and is killed in a charge on a British machine gun post covering the retreat from the General Post Office (GPO) during the fighting.

O’Rahilly is born in Ballylongford, County Kerry to Richard Rahilly, a grocer, and Ellen Rahilly (née Mangan). He has two siblings who live to adulthood, Mary Ellen “Nell” Humphreys (née Rahilly) and Anno O’Rahilly, both of whom are active in the Irish revolutionary period. He is educated in Clongowes Wood College (1890–1893). As an adult, he becomes a republican and a language enthusiast. He joins the Gaelic League and becomes a member of An Coiste Gnotha, its governing body. He is well traveled, spending at least a decade in the United States and in Europe before settling in Dublin.

In 1913 O’Rahilly is a founding member of the Irish Volunteers, who organize to work for Irish independence and resist the proposed Home Rule. He serves as the IV Director of Arms. He personally directs the first major arming of the Irish Volunteers, the landing of 900 Mausers at the Howth gun-running on July 26, 1914.

O’Rahilly is not party to the plans for the Easter Rising, nor is he a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), but he is one of the main people who trains the Irish Volunteers for the coming fight. The planners of the Rising go to great lengths to prevent those leaders of the Volunteers who are opposed to unprovoked, unilateral action from learning that a rising is imminent, including its Chief-of-Staff Eoin MacNeill, Bulmer Hobson, and O’Rahilly. When Hobson discovers that an insurrection is planned, he is kidnapped by the Military Council leadership.

Learning this, O’Rahilly goes to Patrick Pearse‘s school, Scoil Éanna, on Good Friday. He barges into Pearse’s study, brandishing his revolver as he announces “Whoever kidnaps me will have to be a quicker shot!” Pearse calms him down, assuring him that Hobson is unharmed and will be released after the rising begins.

O’Rahilly takes instructions from MacNeill and spends the night driving throughout the country, informing Volunteer leaders in Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, and Limerick that they are not to mobilise their forces for planned manoeuvres on Sunday.

Arriving home, O’Rahilly learns that the Rising is about to begin in Dublin on the following day, Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. Despite his efforts to prevent such action, he sets out to Liberty Hall to join Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas MacDonagh, Tom Clarke, Joseph Plunkett, Countess Markievicz, Seán Mac Diarmada, Éamonn Ceannt and their Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army troops. Arriving in his De Dion-Bouton motorcar, he gives one of the most quoted lines of the rising – “Well, I’ve helped to wind up the clock…I might as well hear it strike!” His car is used to fetch supplies during the siege and later as part of a barricade on Prince’s Street, where it is burned out.

O’Rahilly fights with the GPO garrison during Easter Week. One of the first British prisoners taken in the GPO is Second Lieutenant AD Chalmers, who is bound with telephone wire and lodged in a telephone box by the young Volunteer Captain and IRB activist, Michael Collins. Chalmers later recalls O’Rahilly’s kindness to him. In a statement to a newspaper reporter, he says that he was taken from the phone box after three hours and brought up to O’Rahilly, who ordered, “I want this officer to watch the safe to see that nothing is touched. You will see that no harm comes to him.”

On Friday, April 28, with the GPO on fire, O’Rahilly volunteers to lead a party of men along a route to Williams and Woods, a factory on Great Britain Street, now Parnell Street. A British machine gun at the intersection of Great Britain and Moore streets cuts him and several of the others down. He slumps into a doorway on Moore Street, wounded and bleeding badly but, hearing the English marking his position, makes a dash across the road to find shelter in Sackville Lane, now O’Rahilly Parade. He is wounded diagonally from shoulder to hip by sustained fire from the machine-gunner.

According to ambulance driver Albert Mitchell in a witness statement more than 30 years later, O’Rahilly still clung to life 19 hours after being severely wounded, long after the surrender had taken place on Saturday afternoon.

Desmond Ryan‘s The Rising: The Complete Story of Easter Week maintains that it “was 2:30 PM when Miss O’Farrell reached Moore Street, and as she passed Sackville Lane again, she saw O’Rahilly’s corpse lying a few yards up the laneway, his feet against a stone stairway in front of a house, his head towards the street.”


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Resignation of John Miller Andrews, 2nd Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

john-miller-andrewsJohn Miller Andrews, the second Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, resigns on April 28, 1943 and is succeeded by Sir Basil Brooke, later Lord Brookeborough.

Andrews is born in Comber, County Down, on July 17, 1871, the eldest child in the family of four sons and one daughter of Thomas Andrews, flax spinner, and his wife Eliza Pirrie, a sister of William Pirrie, 1st Viscount Pirrie, chairman of Harland and Wolff. He is named after his maternal great-uncle, John Miller of Comber (1795–1883). As a young man, with his parents and family, he is a committed and active member of the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. He regularly attends Sunday worship in the church built on land donated by his great-grandfather James Andrews in his home town Comber.

Andrews is educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. In business, he is a landowner, a director of his family linen-bleaching company and of the Belfast Ropeworks. His younger brother, Thomas Andrews, who dies in the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, is managing director of the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Another brother, Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, is Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.

In 1902 Andrews marries Jessie Ormrod, eldest daughter of Bolton stockbroker Joseph Ormrod at Rivington Unitarian Chapel, Rivington, near Chorley, Lancashire, England. They have one son and two daughters. His younger brother, Sir James, marries Jessie’s sister.

Andrews is elected as a member of parliament in the House of Commons of Northern Ireland, sitting from 1921 until 1953 (for Down from 1921–1929 and for Mid Down from 1929–1953). He is a founder member of the Ulster Unionist Labour Association, which he chairs, and is Minister of Labour from 1921 to 1937. He is Minister of Finance from 1937 to 1940, succeeding to the position on the death of Hugh MacDowell Pollock. On the death of James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon, in 1940, he becomes leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the second Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

In April 1943 backbench dissent forces him from office. He is replaced as Prime Minister by Sir Basil Brooke. Andrews remains, however, the recognised leader of the UUP for three more years. Five years later he becomes the Grand Master of the Orange Order.  Throughout his life he is deeply involved in the Orange Order. He holds the positions of Grand Master of County Down from 1941 and Grand Master of Ireland (1948–1954). In 1949 he is appointed Imperial Grand Master of the Grand Orange Council of the World.

From 1949, he is the last parliamentary survivor of the original 1921 Northern Ireland Parliament, and as such is recognised as the Father of the House. He is the only Prime Minister of Northern Ireland not to have been granted a peerage. His predecessor and successor received hereditary viscountcies, and later prime ministers are granted life peerages.

Andrews serves on the Comber Congregational Committee from 1896 until his death, holding the position of Chairman from 1935 onward. He dies in Comber on August 5, 1956 and is buried in the small graveyard adjoining the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland.


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Phillip O’Reilly Surrenders to the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland

settlement-of-ireland-1653The last major body of Irish Catholic troops under Phillip O’Reilly surrender to the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland at Cloughoughter in County Cavan on April 27, 1653. This marks the end of the Irish Confederate Wars which began in 1641.

Colonel Philip O’Reilly is a member of parliament (MP) for County Cavan in the Parliament of Ireland from 1639 to 1641, and a leading member of the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

O’Reilly’s father, grandfather and several other ancestors are chiefs of the O’Reilly clan and Lords of Breifne O’Reilly. His mother is Catherine MacMahon. He resides at Bellanacargy Castle in the barony of Tullygarvey, near to present day village of Drung. Bellanacargy castle, anciently referred to as Ballynacarraig because it was built on a carraig (rock island) situated in the middle of the River Annalee, is destroyed in May 1689 by Williamite forces led by Thomas Lloyd.

As a young man O’Reilly serves for some time in the Spanish army but returns to Ireland. He is appointed Commissioner of the Peace in 1625 and High Sheriff of Cavan in 1629. He is elected as MP for County Cavan in 1639.

During the Parliamentary session of 1640 O’Reilly is enlisted by Rory O’Moore in the plot to start a rebellion against English rule in Ireland. O’Moore is a distant relation as his sister Cecilia O’Moore is married to O’Reilly’s first cousin, Tirlagh O’Neill. On the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion in October 1641 he is elected chief of the O’Reillys. As a result, the Irish Parliament expels him on November 16, 1641. On November 6, 1641 he orders a general gathering of his clansmen from 16 to 60 years of age, to be held at Virginia, and on December 11, 1641 he has possession of the whole county, except the Killeshandra castles of Keelagh and Croghan which are defended by Sir Francis Hamilton and Sir James Craig. He raises a brigade of twelve hundred men, composed chiefly of his name and family, and serves with distinction as lieutenant-general in the service of the Confederate Catholics of Ireland. The Assembly of Kilkenny appoints him Lord President of Ulster. His second cousin Myles O’Reilly is High Sheriff of Cavan in 1641 at the outbreak of the Rebellion.

O’Reilly is detained for treason by the English government in 1642. In his diary for June 3, 1644, the historian Sir James Ware II states, “Intelligence came to Dublin that Roger Moore and Philip O’Reilly, two of the first incendiaries were committed to prison at Kilkenny.” O’Reilly is further denounced by the Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652 at the end of the rebellion. Following the collapse of the Irish confederacy, he formally surrenders to Oliver Cromwell at Cloughoughter Castle on April 27, 1653, being the last Irish garrison to do so. He secures favourable terms and is obliged to leave Ireland. He retires with his brigade into Spain and thence to the Netherlands, where he serves in the Spanish army for about two years and dies in 1655. He is buried in the Irish monastery of St. Dominick in Leuven, Belgium.


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Death of IRA Volunteer Séamus McElwaine

seamus-turlough-mcelwaineSéamus Turlough McElwaine, a volunteer in the South Fermanagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), is killed on April 26, 1986 by the Special Air Service (SAS) while on active duty with Seán Lynch, who is seriously injured in the shooting.

McElwaine is born on April 1, 1960, the oldest of eight children, in the townland of Knockacullion, beside the hamlet and townland of Knockatallon, near the village of Scotstown in the north of County Monaghan. At the age of 14, he takes his first steps towards becoming involved in physical force republicanism when he joins Na Fianna Éireann. Two years later he turns down an opportunity to study in the United States and joins the Irish Republican Army (IRA), stating “no one will ever be able to accuse me of running away.”

McElwaine becomes Officer Commanding of the IRA in County Fermanagh by the age of 19. On February 5, 1980, he kills off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) corporal Aubrey Abercrombie as he drives a tractor in the townland of Drumacabranagher, near Florencecourt. Later that year, on September 23, he kills off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Reserve Constable Ernest Johnston outside his home in Rosslea. He is suspected of involvement in at least ten other killings.

On March 14, 1981, a detachment of the British Army surrounds a farmhouse near Rosslea, containing McElwaine and three other IRA members. Despite being armed with four rifles, including an Armalite, the IRA members surrender and are arrested. While on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol, McElwaine stands in the February 1982 Irish general election as an independent candidate for Cavan–Monaghan and receives 3,974 votes (6.84% of the vote). In May 1982 he is convicted of murdering the RUC and UDR members, with the judge describing him as a “dangerous killer” and recommending he spend at least 30 years in prison.

On September 25, 1983, McElwaine is involved in the Maze Prison escape, the largest break-out of prisoners in Europe since World War II and in British prison history. Thirty-eight republican prisoners, armed with six handguns, hijack a prison meals lorry and smash their way out of the prison. After the escape McElwaine joins an IRA Active Service Unit operating in the area of the border between Counties Monaghan and Fermanagh. The unit targets police and military patrols with gun and bomb attacks, while sleeping rough in barns and outhouses to avoid capture.

McElwaine holds a meeting with Pádraig McKearney and Jim Lynagh, members of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade, in which they discuss forming a flying column aimed at destroying police stations to create IRA-controlled zones within Northern Ireland. However, this plan never materialises. McKearney and Lynagh are later themselves killed in the Loughgall ambush.

On April 26, 1986, McElwaine and another IRA member, Seán Lynch, are preparing to ambush a British Army patrol near Rosslea, County Fermanagh when they are ambushed themselves by a detachment from the Special Air Service Regiment. Both are wounded but Lynch manages to crawl away. A January 1993 inquest jury returns a verdict that McElwaine had been unlawfully killed. The jury rules the soldiers had opened fire without giving him a chance to surrender, and that he was shot dead five minutes after being wounded. The Director of Public Prosecutions requests a full report on the inquest from the RUC, but no one has been prosecuted for McElwaine’s death.

McElwaine is buried in Scotstown, with his funeral attended by an estimated 3,000 people, including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. McGuinness gives an oration describing McElwaine as “a brave intelligent soldier, a young man who gave up his youth to fight for the freedom of his country” and “an Irish freedom fighter murdered by British terrorists.”

In 1987 McElwaine’s father, Jimmy, a longtime member of Monaghan County Council, became the chairman of the Séamus McElwain Cumann of Republican Sinn Féin.

On April 1, 1990 a monument to McElwaine is erected in Corlat, County Monaghan. The oration is given by a Catholic priest, Father Piaras Ó Dúill, who compares McElwaine to Nelson Mandela, saying they both had the same attitude to oppression and both refused to denounce principle. The inscription on the monument is a quote from Patrick Pearse: “As long as Ireland is unfree the only honourable attitude for Irishmen and Irishwomen is an attitude of revolt.” A monument to McElwaine and six other republicans is erected in Rosslea in 1998, and unveiled by veteran republican Joe Cahill.


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Martial Law Declared in Ireland

martial-law-april-1916The United Kingdom declares martial law in Ireland for one month on April 25, 1916, the day after the commencement of the Easter Rising. A curfew is imposed from 8:30 PM until 5:00 AM. Anyone spotted on the streets during the hours of darkness are to be shot on sight. The trams stop running at 7:00 PM and the theatres and cinemas close by 8:00 PM. Those rushing for trams leaving the city centre have to pass through a stop-and-search military cordon.

The Easter Rising, also known as the Easter Rebellion, is an armed insurrection in Ireland during Easter Week, 1916. The Rising is mounted by Irish republicans in an attempt to end British rule in Ireland, secede from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic. This takes place while the United Kingdom is heavily engaged in World War I. It is the most significant uprising in Ireland since the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

Organized by seven members of the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), the Rising begins on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, and lasts for six days. The following day the British Government immediately declares martial law in Ireland. Members of the Irish Volunteers, led by schoolmaster and Irish language activist Patrick Pearse and joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly and 200 members of Cumann na mBan, seize key locations in Dublin and proclaim the Irish Republic independent of the United Kingdom. There are actions in other parts of Ireland, however, except for the attack on the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks at Ashbourne in County Meath, they are minor.

With vastly superior numbers and artillery, the British army quickly suppresses the Rising and Pearse agrees to an unconditional surrender on Saturday, April, 29, 1916. Most of the leaders are executed following courts-martial, but the Rising succeeds in bringing physical force republicanism back to the forefront of Irish politics. Support for republicanism continues to rise in Ireland in the context of the ongoing war in Europe and the Middle East and revolutions in other countries, and especially as a result of the Conscription Crisis of 1918 and the failure of the British-sponsored Irish Convention.

In the 1918 Irish general election, republicans, by then represented by Sinn Féin, secure an overwhelming victory, winning 73 Irish seats out of 105 to the British Parliament, on a policy of abstentionism and Irish independence. The following year Éamon de Valera escapes from Lincoln Gaol to become party leader. On January 21, 1919 they convene the First Dáil and declare the independence of the Irish Republic. Later that same day the Irish Republican Army, organised by Minister for Finance and IRB president Michael Collins, begins the Irish War of Independence with the Soloheadbeg ambush.

(Pictured: Rebel prisoners are marched out of Dublin by the British Army)