seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Robert Erskine Childers, Writer & Fenian

Robert Erskine Childers, British writer universally known as Erskine Childers and whose mother is from County Clare, is born on June 25, 1870 in Mayfair, London, England. His works include the influential novel The Riddle of the Sands. He is the second son of Robert Caesar Childers, a translator and oriental scholar from an ecclesiastical family, and Anna Mary Henrietta, née Barton, from an Anglo-Irish landowning family of Glendalough House, Annamoe, County Wicklow. He is also the cousin of Hugh Childers and Robert Barton, and the father of the fourth President of Ireland, Erskine Hamilton Childers.

Childers is raised at the home of family members at Glendalough, County Wicklow. At the recommendation of his grandfather, Canon Charles Childers, he is sent to Haileybury College. There he wins an exhibition to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studies the classical tripos and then law. He distinguishes himself as the editor of Cambridge Review, the university magazine.

Childers’s first published work is some light detective stories he contributes to the Cambridge Review while he is editor. His first book is In the Ranks of the C. I. V., an account of his experiences in the Boer War, but he writes it without any thought of publication.

After serving in the British army during the Boer War he becomes an Irish nationalist. In 1914, Childers smuggles a cargo of 900 Mauser Model 1871 rifles and 29,000 black powder cartridges to the Irish Volunteers movement at the fishing village of Howth, County Dublin on his yacht, Asgard.

Though he serves as the principal secretary to Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith at the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations, Childers opposes the treaty, supporting the anti-treaty forces during the Irish Civil War. Childers is captured with a pistol by Free Staters in November 1922 shortly after the Free State has passed legislation making such possession a capital offence. Ironically, the revolver Childers possesses is a gift from former comrade Michael Collins, who led the Free State until his death in an ambush three months earlier.

Childers is put on trial by a military court on the charge of possessing a small Spanish-made Gaztanaga Destroyer .32 calibre semi-automatic pistol on his person in violation of the Emergency Powers Resolution. Childers is convicted by the military court and sentenced to death on November 20, 1922.

While his appeal against the sentence is still pending, Childers is executed on November 24, 1922 by firing squad at the Beggar’s Bush Barracks in Dublin. Before his execution he shakes hands with each member of the firing squad. He also obtains a promise from his then 16-year-old son, the future President Erskine Hamilton Childers, to seek out and shake the hand of every man who has signed his death sentence. His final words, spoken to the firing squad, are, “Take a step or two forward, lads, it will be easier that way.”

Robert Erskine Childers is buried at Beggar’s Bush Barracks until 1923, when his body is exhumed and reburied in the republican plot at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


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Birth of Irish Politician Mary MacSwiney

Mary MacSwiney, Irish politician and educationalist, is born in London on March 27, 1872, to an Irish father and English mother. In 1927 she becomes leader of Sinn Féin when Éamon de Valera resigns from the presidency of the party.

MacSwiney returns to Ireland with her family at the age of six and is educated at St. Angela’s School in Cork. At the age of twenty, she obtains a teaching post at a private school in England and studies for a Teaching Diploma at the University of Cambridge, which is normally reserved for men.

Influenced by her younger brother Terence MacSwiney‘s staunch Irish republicanism, MacSwiney joins the Gaelic League and Inghinidhe na hÉireann. She is a founder member of Cumann na mBan when it is formed in 1914 in Cork and becomes a National Vice-President of the organisation. She leads the denunciation of British rule at the Convention of November 1914. In 1916 she is arrested and imprisoned following the Easter Rising and is also dismissed from her teaching position due to her republican activities. Several months later, upon her release from prison, she and her sister Annie re-found Scoil Íte, a sister school to Patrick Pearse‘s St. Enda’s School, and she remains involved with the school for the rest of her life.

MacSwiney supports the Irish War of Independence in 1919–21. After the death of her brother Terence in October 1920 on hunger strike during the height of the war, she is elected for Sinn Féin to the Cork Borough constituency in 1921. She gives evidence in Washington, D.C., before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. For nine months she and Terence’s widow, Muriel, tour the United States lecturing and giving interviews.

MacSwiney is active in her friendship with Harry Boland and de Valera, whom she cultivates assiduously. In October 1921, a second delegation is to be sent to London which for the first time includes Michael Collins. MacSwiney, who remains implacably opposed, pleads with de Valera to be allowed to go. She is refused as de Valera thinks her to be “too extreme.” She strongly opposes the Anglo-Irish Treaty, debating during December 1921 to January 1922 to resume the war. On December 21 she speaks for three hours, criticising the agreement from all angles.

MacSwiney is arrested at Nell Ryan’s home, a safe house, at 40 Herbert Park, Ballsbridge, on November 4, 1922, when it is raided by Free State soldiers. She is interned at Mountjoy Gaol and immediately goes on hunger strike. Cumann na mBan organizes vigils outside the prison in protest of Mary’s and the others internment. The Women’s Prisoner’s Defence League is formed in August 1922 to protect their rights. During the hunger strike she refuses doctor’s visits and is resigned to her death. Her condition is critical and she is given the Last Rites by a Catholic priest. The Government is not prepared to allow strikers die so she is released.

En route to Liam Lynch‘s funeral, MacSwiney is again arrested when the car in which she is riding is stopped and she is recognised. She is taken with Kate O’Callaghan to Kilmainham Gaol. Fearless of death, she begins another protest. They continued to be interned without charge, but it is explained she is distributing anti-government propaganda. After nineteen days of hunger strike she is due to be released on April 30, 1923. The Governor allows O’Callaghan to go but stays a decision on MacSwiney. Most of the women on hunger strike are sent to the North Dublin Union.

MacSwiney retains her seat at the 1923 general election and, along with other Sinn Féin members, refuses to enter the Dáil Éireann.

In March 1926 the party holds its Ard Fheis. MacSwiney and Father Michael O’Flanagan lead the section from which Éamon de Valera and Fianna Fáil break away. De Valera has come to believe that abstentionism is not a workable tactic and now sees the need to become the elected government of the Dáil. The conference instructs a joint committee of representatives from the two sections to arrange a basis for co-operation. That day, it issues a statement declaring “the division within our ranks is a division of Republicans.” The next day, de Valera’s motion to accept the Free State Constitution, contingent upon the abolition of the Oath of Allegiance, narrowly fails by a vote of 223 to 218. However, de Valera takes the great majority of Sinn Féin support with him when he founds Fianna Fáil.

MacSwiney continues to maintain a republican position until her death. By then she is vice-president of Sinn Féin and Cumann na mBan but loses her seat at the June 1927 general election. When lack of funds prevent Sinn Féin contesting the second election called that year, MacSwiney declares “no true Irish citizen can vote for any of the other parties.”

Mary MacSwiney dies at her home in Cork on March 8, 1942. Her stance, both before and after the Treaty, may be summed up by her statement, “A rebel is one who opposes lawfully constituted authority and that I have never done.”


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Irish Free State Suspends Executions

irish-free-state-executionsOn February 8, 1923, the Irish Free State suspends executions until February 18, offering an amnesty to anyone who surrenders before that date.

In the aftermath of the sudden death of Arthur Griffith and the killing of Michael Collins, in August 1922, William T. Cosgrave becomes chairman of the provisional government. Cosgrave and his colleagues remain wedded to a ruthless military and political strategy that ensures, by May 1923, a decisive win over the Republicans and the end of the Irish Civil War. Cosgrave’s analysis is that “the executions have had a remarkable effect. It is a sad thing to say, but it is nevertheless the case.” He could also be chilling in his resolve: “I am not going to hesitate and if the country is to live and if we have to exterminate 10,000 republicans, the 3 millions of our people are bigger than the ten thousand.”

The Free State suspends executions and offers an amnesty in the hope that anti-treaty fighters will surrender. However, the war drags for another two months and witnesses at least twenty more official executions.

Several Republican leaders narrowly avoid execution. Ernie O’Malley, captured on November 4, 1922, is not executed because he is too badly wounded when taken prisoner to face a court-martial and possibly because the Free State is hesitant about executing an undisputed hero of the recent struggle against the British. Liam Deasy, captured in January 1923, avoids execution by signing a surrender document calling on the anti-treaty forces to lay down their arms.

The Anti-Treaty side calls a ceasefire on April 30, 1923 and orders their men to “dump arms,” ending the war on May 24. Nevertheless, executions of Republican prisoners continue after this time. Four Irish Republican Army (IRA) men are executed in May after the ceasefire order and the final two executions take place on November 20, months after the end of hostilities. It is not until November 1924 that a general amnesty is offered for any acts committed in the civil war.

In highlighting the severity of the Free State’s execution policy, however, it is important not to exaggerate its extent. The Free State takes over 12,000 Republicans prisoner during the war, of whom roughly 80, less than 1%, are executed. How those who are executed are chosen from the others captured in arms is unclear, however many more men are sentenced to the death penalty than are actually shot. This is intended to act as a deterrent to anti-Treaty fighters in the field, who know that their imprisoned comrades are likely to be executed if they kept up their armed campaign.

Perhaps this realism is also beginning to affect the republican self-declared “men of faith.” Dan Breen, who leads an IRA column in Tipperary during the Civil war, tells his fellow republicans, “In order to win this war you’ll need to kill 3 out of every 5 people in the country and it isn’t worth it.”


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Last British Troops Leave the Irish Free State

british-troops-leave-irelandThe last British troops leave the Irish Free State on December 17, 1922. They are the remnants of a 5,000 strong garrison maintained up to that point in Dublin, commanded by Nevil Macready.

It appears to be a friendly farewell, even while Ireland is embroiled in its own Civil War. The Union Jack is lowered at the hospital and Macready goes to review the final contingent of troops as they leave the Royal barracks, later known as the Collins barracks. He then motors to Kingstown, now Dún Laoghaire, where he receives a 17-gun salute and joins Admiral Cecil Fox, the Sligo-born naval commander in the area, on board the cruiser HMS Dragon to sail home to England and retirement.

Meanwhile, the troops, 3,500 men mostly from the Leicester, Worchester, and Border regiments, march to the port. At Beresford Place they are greeted by 500 members of the Legion of Irish Ex-Servicemen, in civilian clothes but wearing their decorations. Thousands of other people line the quays and the armoured cars and the Dublin Metropolitan Police stand by, but there is no trouble. Embarkation onto six ships begins around 1:15 PM. At 3:10 PM, the last ship to leave, the steamer Arvonia chartered from the London and North Western Railway, weighs anchor while a band on deck plays “God Save the King” and a crowd breaks into the North Wall Extension to wave a final farewell as it enters Alexandra Basin.

The armoured cars them drive north to Ulster and the evacuation of the Irish Free State, apart from the Treaty ports, is over. General Richard Mulcahy, who takes over the Royal barracks that day, claims “the incubus of occupation that has lain as a heavy hand on the country for years has been removed.”

In his memoirs, Macready expresses annoyance that a photograph of Fox and himself published in The Irish Times on December 18 has the caption “two gallant Irishmen.” Although he has an Irish grandfather, he cordially loathes Ireland.

The British leave fully outfitted barracks to the Irish Army and artifacts including a large card in the Headquarters in Parkgate Street printed with the admonition “LOVE ONE ANOTHER.”


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Establishment of the Irish Free State

free-state-executive-councilThe Irish Free State (Irish: Saorstát Éireann), an independent state established under the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921, comes into being on December 6, 1922. The treaty ends the three-year Irish War of Independence between the forces of the self-proclaimed Irish Republic, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and British Crown forces.

The Free State is established as a Dominion of the British Commonwealth of Nations. For one day, it encompasses all thirty-two counties of Ireland. Northern Ireland, which is comprised of the six northernmost counties, exercises its right under the Treaty to opt out of the new state on December 7.

The Free State government consists of the Governor-General, the representative of the king, and the Executive Council, which replaces both the revolutionary Dáil Government and the Provisional Government set up under the Treaty. W. T. Cosgrave, who had led both of these governments since August 1922, becomes the first President of the Executive Council. The legislature consists of Dáil Éireann, the lower house, and Seanad Éireann, also known as the Senate. Members of the Dáil are required to take an Oath of Allegiance, swearing fidelity to the king. The oath is a key issue for opponents of the Treaty, who refuse to take the oath and therefore do not take their seats. Pro-Treaty members, who form Cumann na nGaedheal in 1923, hold an effective majority in the Dáil from 1922 to 1927, and thereafter rule as a minority government until 1932.

In the first months of the Free State, the Irish Civil War is waged between the newly established National Army and the anti-Treaty IRA, who refuse to recognise the state. The Civil War ends in victory for the government forces, with the anti-Treaty forces dumping its arms in May 1923. The anti-Treaty political party, Sinn Féin, refuses to take its seats in the Dáil, leaving the relatively small Labour Party as the only opposition party. In 1926, when Sinn Féin president Éamon de Valera fails to have this policy reversed, he resigns from Sinn Féin and founds Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil enters the Dáil following the 1927 general election, and enters government after the Irish general election of 1932, when it becomes the largest party.

De Valera abolishes the Oath of Allegiance and embarks on an economic war with Britain. In 1937 he drafts a new constitution, which is passed by a referendum in July of that year. The Free State comes to an end with the coming into force of the new constitution on December 29, 1937. Under the new constitution the Irish state is named Ireland.

(Pictured: The Executive Council of the Irish Free State, October 1928)


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Free State Government Purchases Copyright to “The Soldiers Song”

amhran-na-bhfiannThe Irish Free State government purchases the copyright of Peadar Kearney‘s The Soldiers Song on October 20, 1933, which becomes the Irish national anthem Amhrán na bhFiann. The song has three verses, but only the choral refrain is officially designated the national anthem.

A Soldiers’ Song is composed in 1907, with words by Peadar Kearney and music by Kearney and Patrick Heeney. The text is first published in Irish Freedom by Bulmer Hobson in 1912. It is used as a marching song by the Irish Volunteers and is sung by rebels in the General Post Office (GPO) during the Easter Rising of 1916. Its popularity increases among rebels held in Frongoch internment camp after the Rising, and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Irish War of Independence (1919–21). After the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, a large proportion of the IRA’s men and apparatus become the National Army. The Soldiers’ Song remains popular as an Army tune, and is played at many military functions.

The Free State does not initially adopt any official anthem. The delicate political state in the aftermath of the Irish Civil War provokes a desire to avoid controversy. Ex-Unionists continue to regard God Save the King as the national anthem, as it has been for the rest of the British Empire. W. T. Cosgrave, President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State expresses opposition to replacing The Soldiers’ Song, which is provisionally used within the State.

There is concern that the lack of an official anthem is giving Unionists an opportunity to persist with God Save the King. The Soldiers’ Song is widely if unofficially sung by nationalists. On July 12, 1926, the Executive Council of the Irish Free State decides to adopt it as the National Anthem, with Cosgrave the driving force in the decision. However, this decision is not publicised.

In 1928, the Army band establishes the practice of playing only the chorus of the song as the Anthem, because the longer version is discouraging audiences from singing along.

The anthem is played by Radio Éireann at closedown from its inception in 1926. Cinemas and theatres do so from 1932 until 1972. Peadar Kearney, who has received royalties from publishers of the text and music, issues legal proceedings for royalties from those now performing the anthem. He is joined by Michael Heeney, brother of Patrick Heeney, who had died in 1911. In 1934, the Department of Finance acquires the copyright of the song for the sum of £1,200. Copyright law changes in 1959, such that the government has to reacquire copyright in 1965, for £2,500. As per copyright law, the copyright expires in December 2012, following the 70th anniversary of Kearney’s death. In 2016, three Fianna Fáil senators introduce a private member’s bill intended to restore the state’s copyright in the anthem.


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The Founding of Saor Éire

saor-eireSaor Éire, a left-wing political organisation, is established on September 26, 1931 by communist-leaning members of the Irish Republican Army, with the backing of the IRA leadership. Notable among its founders is Peadar O’Donnell, former editor of An Phoblacht and a leading left-wing figure in the IRA. Saor Éire describes itself as “an organization of workers and working farmers.”

It is believed that the support of the then IRA chief of staff Moss (Maurice) Twomey is instrumental in the organisation’s establishment. However, Tim Pat Coogan claims that Twomey is doubtful about the organisation, worrying about involvement in electoral politics and possible communist influence.

During its short existence Saor Éire uses the republican publication An Phoblacht, under the editorship of Frank Ryan, to report on its progress and to promote its radical, left-wing republican views.

On the weekend of September 26-27, 1931, Saor Éire holds its first conference in Dublin at Iona Hall. One hundred and fifty delegates from both the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland attend the conference against a background of police raids on the houses and offices connected with Saor Éire and An Phoblacht. Seán Hayes is chairman, while David Fitzgerald acts as secretary.

The conference elects an executive of Hayes, Fitzgerald, Sean McGuinness, May Laverty, Helena Molony, Sheila Dowling, Sheila Humphreys, D. McGinley, Mick Fitzpatrick, Seán MacBride, Michael Price, Peadar O’Donnell, Mick Hallissey, M. O’Donnell, Patrick McCormack, Tom Kenny, L. Brady, Nicholas Boran, John Mulgrew and Tom Maguire. George Gilmore and Frank Ryan are also involved.

The constitution elaborates upon the aims by describing a two-phase programme. The first phase is described as being one of organisation and propagandising in order to organise a solid front for mass resistance to the oppressors. This is to build upon the day-to-day resistance and activity towards “rents, annuities, evictions, seizures, bank sales, lock-outs, strikes and wage-cuts.” This challenge, it is believed, would lead to power passing from the hands of the imperialists to the masses. The second phase is one of consolidation of power through the organisation of the economy and a workers’ and working farmers’ republic.

Ideologically Saor Éire adheres to the Irish socialist republicanism developed by James Connolly and Peadar O’Donnell. As a consequence of the heavy influence of O’Donnell, Saor Éire strongly advocates the revival of Gaelic culture and the involvement of the poorer rural working communities in any rise against the Irish capitalist institutions and British imperialism.

The organisation is attacked by the centre-right press and the Catholic Church as a dangerous communist group, and is quickly banned by the Free State government. The strength of reaction against it prevents it from becoming an effective political organisation. O’Donnell and his supporters attempt a similar initiative two years later with the establishment of the Republican Congress in 1933.