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


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Birth of Dan Breen, IRA Volunteer & Fianna Fáil Politician

Irish republican Dan Breen (1967)Daniel “Dan” Breen, volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, is born in Grange, Donohill parish, County Tipperary, on August 11, 1894. In later years, he is a Fianna Fáil politician.

Breen’s father dies when he is six, leaving the family very poor. He is educated locally before becoming a plasterer and later a linesman on the Great Southern Railways.

Breen is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1912 and the Irish Volunteers in 1914. On January 21, 1919, the day the First Dáil meets in Dublin, Breen takes part in the Soloheadbeg Ambush. The ambush party of eight men, led by Seán Treacy, attacks two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men who are escorting explosives to a quarry. The two policemen, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell, are fatally shot during the incident. The ambush is considered to be the first incident of the Irish War of Independence.

During the conflict, the British put a £1,000 price on Breen’s head, which is later increased to £10,000. He quickly establishes himself as a leader within the Irish Republican Army. He is known for his courage. On May 13, 1919 he helps rescue his comrade Seán Hogan at gunpoint from a heavily guarded train at Knocklong station in County Limerick. Breen, who is wounded, remembers how the battalion is “vehemently denounced as a cold-blooded assassins” and roundly condemned by the Catholic Church. After the fight, Treacy, Séumas Robinson, and Breen meet Michael Collins in Dublin, where they are told to make themselves scarce although they do not necessarily agree.

Breen and Sean Treacy shoot their way out through a British military cordon in the northern suburb of Drumcondra (Fernside). They escape, only for Treacy to be killed the next day. Breen is shot at least four times, twice in the lung.

The British reaction is to make Tipperary a “Special Military Area,” with curfews and travel permits. Volunteer GHQ authorises entrerprising attacks on barracks. The British policy forces Breen and Treacy to retreat to Dublin. They join Michael Collins’ Squad of assassins, later known as the Dublin Guard, and Dublin becomes the centre of the war.

Breen is present in December 1919 at the ambush in Ashtown beside Phoenix Park in Dublin where Martin Savage is killed while trying to assassinate the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Viscount John French. The IRA hides behind hedges and a dungheap as the convoy of vehicles drives past. They have been instructed to ignore the first car but this contains their target, Lord French. Their roadblock fails as a policeman removes the horse and cart intended to stop the car.

Breen utterly rejects the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which makes him, like many others, angry and embittered. In the June 1922 elections Breen is nominated as a candidate by both the pro- and anti-Treaty sides, but is not elected.

Breen is elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election as a Republican anti-Treaty Teachta Dála (TD) for the Tipperary constituency. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Breen joins the Anti-Treaty IRA in the civil war, fighting against those of his former comrades in arms who support the Treaty. He is arrested by the National Army of the Irish Free State and interned at Limerick Prison. He spends two months there before going on hunger strike for six days followed by a thirst strike of six days, prompting his release.

Breen writes a best-selling account of his guerrilla days, My Fight for Irish Freedom, in 1924. He represents Tipperary from the fourth Dáil in 1923 as a Republican with Éamon de Valera and Frank Aiken. He is defeated in the June 1927 general election and travels to the United States where he opens a prohibition speakeasy. In 1932 he returns to Ireland and regains his seat as a member of Fianna Fáil in the Dáil at that year’s general election. During World War II he is said to hold largely pro-Axis views. He represents his Tipperary constituency without a break until his retirement at the 1965 election.

Breen dies in Dublin on December 27, 1969 and is buried in Donohill, near his birthplace. His funeral is the largest seen in west Tipperary since that of his close friend and comrade-in-arms Seán Treacy at Kilfeacle in October 1920. An estimated attendance of 10,000 mourners assemble in the tiny hamlet, giving ample testimony to the esteem in which he was held.

Breen is the subject of a 2007 biography Dan Breen and the IRA by Joe Ambrose.

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Operation Demetrius

long-kesh-internment-campOperation Demetrius, a British Army operation in Northern Ireland begins on August 9, 1971, during the Troubles. The operation involves the mass arrest and internment (imprisonment without trial) of 342 people suspected of being involved with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which is waging a campaign for a united Ireland against the British state.

Operation Demetrius, proposed by the Government of Northern Ireland and approved by the Government of the United Kingdom, begins throughout Northern Ireland in the early morning hours of Monday, August 9 and progresses in two parts:

  1. Arrest and movement of the detainees to one of three regional holding centers: Girdwood Barracks in Belfast, Abercorn Barracks in Ballykinler, County Down, or HM Prison Magilligan near LimavadyCounty Londonderry.
  2. The process of identification and questioning, leading either to release of the detainee or movement into detention at HM Prison Crumlin Road or aboard HMS Maidstone, a prison ship in Belfast Harbour.

The operation sparks four days of violence in which 20 civilians, two IRA members and two British soldiers are killed. All of those arrested are Irish nationalists, the vast majority of them Catholic. Due to faulty intelligence, many have no links with the IRA. Ulster loyalist paramilitaries are also carrying out acts of violence, which are mainly directed against Catholics and Irish nationalists, but no loyalists are included in the sweep.

The introduction of internment, the way the arrests are carried out, and the abuse of those arrested, lead to mass protests and a sharp increase in violence. Amid the violence, about 7,000 people flee or are forced out of their homes. The interrogation techniques used on some of the internees are described by the European Commission of Human Rights in 1976 as torture, but the superior court, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), rules on appeal in 1978 that, although the techniques are “inhuman and degrading”, they do not, in this instance, constitute torture. It is later revealed that the British government had withheld information from the ECHR and that the policy had been authorized by British government ministers. In December 2014, in light of the new evidence, the Irish government asks the ECHR to revise its 1978 judgement. The ECHR declines the request in 2018.

The backlash against internment contributes to the decision of the British Government under Prime Minister Edward Heath to suspend the Northern Ireland Government and replace it with direct rule from Westminster, under the authority of a British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This takes place in 1972.

Following the suspension of the Northern Ireland Government and Parliament, internment is continued by the direct rule administration until December 5, 1975. During this time 1,981 people are interned, 1,874 are nationalist while 107 are loyalist. The first loyalist internees are detained in February 1973.

(Pictured: The entrance to Compound 19, one of the sections of Long Kesh internment camp)


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Birth of George Clinton, Soldier & Statesman

george-clintonGeorge Clinton, American soldier and statesman considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, is born in Little Britain, Province of New York, British America on July 26, 1739. A prominent member of the Democratic-Republican Party, he serves as the fourth Vice President of the United States from 1805 until his death in 1812. He also serves as Governor of New York from 1777 to 1795 and from 1801 to 1804. Along with John C. Calhoun, he is one of only two vice presidents to hold office under two presidents.

Clinton’s parents are Colonel Charles Clinton and Elizabeth Denniston Clinton, Presbyterian immigrants who had left County Longford in Ireland in 1729 to escape an Anglo-Irish regime that imposed severe disabilities on religious dissenters. His political interests are inspired by his father, who is a farmer, surveyor, and land speculator, and serves as a member of the New York colonial assembly. He is the brother of General James Clinton and the uncle of New York’s future governor, DeWitt Clinton. He is tutored by a local Scottish clergyman.

Clinton serves in the French and Indian War, rising to the rank of lieutenant in the colonial militia. He begins a legal practice after the war and serves as a district attorney for New York City. He becomes Governor of New York in 1777 and remains in that office until 1795. He supports the cause of independence during the American Revolutionary War and serves in the Continental Army despite his gubernatorial position. During and after the war, he is a major opponent of Vermont‘s entrance into the union due to disputes over land claims.

Opposed to the ratification of the Constitution of the United States, Clinton becomes a prominent Anti-Federalist and advocates for the addition of the United States Bill of Rights. In the early 1790s, he emerges as a leader of the incipient Democratic-Republican Party and serves as the party’s vice presidential candidate in the 1792 presidential election. He receives the third most electoral votes in the election, as President George Washington and Vice President John Adams both win re-election. He does not seek re-election in 1795, but serves as governor again from 1801 to 1804. He is the longest-serving governor in U.S. history until Terry Branstad surpasses his record in 2015.

Clinton is again tapped as the Democratic-Republican vice presidential nominee in the 1804 presidential election, as President Thomas Jefferson dumps Aaron Burr from the ticket. Clinton seeks his party’s presidential nomination in the 1808 presidential election, but the party’s congressional nominating caucus instead nominates James Madison. Despite his opposition to Madison, Clinton is re-elected as vice president.

George Clinton dies in Washington, D.C. on April 20, 1812, leaving the office of vice president vacant for the first time in U.S history. He is buried in the Old Dutch Churchyard in Kingston, New York. His nephew, DeWitt Clinton, continues the Clinton New York political dynasty after his uncle’s death.

(Pictured: Portrait of George Clinton by Ezra Ames, 1814)


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Birth of Chartist Leader Feargus O’Connor

feargus-edward-o-connorFeargus Edward O’Connor, advocate of the Land Plan and prominent Chartist leader who succeeds in making Chartism the first specifically working class national movement in Great Britain, is born near Castletown-Kinneigh, County Cork on July 18, 1796.

O’Connor is born into a prominent Irish Protestant family who claims to be the descendants of the 12th-century king Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair. He is educated mainly at Portarlington Grammar School and has some elementary schooling in England.

O’Connor practices law but exchanges law for politics when he enters the British Parliament in 1832 as a member for County Cork. Unseated in 1835, he turns to radical agitation in England, although he continues to press Irish grievances and to seek Irish support. As a result of his humour, invective, and energy, he becomes the best known Chartist leader and the movement’s most popular speaker. His journal, the Northern Star (founded in 1837), gains a wide circulation.

O’Connor’s methods and views alienate other Chartist leaders, particularly William Lovett, but in 1841, after spending a year in prison for seditious libel, he acquires undisputed leadership of the Chartists. Failing to lead the movement to victory and vacillating in his attitude toward the middle class and toward the People’s Charter, a six-point bill drafted and published in May 1838, he begins to lose power, although he is elected to Parliament for Nottingham in 1847. The failure of the People’s Charter in 1848 marks the beginning of the end for O’Connor, whose egocentricity is already bordering on madness.

The circulation of the Northern Star falls steadily and it loses money. O’Connor’s health is failing, and reports of his mental breakdown regularly appear in the newspapers. In the spring of 1852 he visits the United States, where his behaviour leaves no doubt that he is not a well man.

In 1852 in the House of Commons O’Connor strikes three fellow MPs, one of them Sir Benjamin Hall, a vocal critic of the Land Plan. Arrested by the Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms, he is sent by his sister to Dr. Thomas Harrington Tuke‘s private Manor House Asylum in Chiswick, where he remains until 1854, when he is moved to his sister’s house. He dies on August 30, 1855 at 18 Albert Terrace, Notting Hill Gate and is buried on September 10 in Kensal Green Cemetery. No fewer than 40,000 people witness the funeral procession. Most Chartists preferred to remember O’Connor’s strengths rather than his shortcomings.


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Birth of Hugh O’Brien, 31st Mayor of Boston

hugh-obrienHugh O’Brien, the mayor of Boston from 1884-1888, is born in Ireland on July 13, 1827. He is notable as Boston’s first Irish-born mayor, immigrating to the United States in the early 1830s. He is the editor of the Shipping and Commercial List and serves as a Boston alderman from 1875-1883.

O’Brien moves with his family to Boston when he is five years old, well before the potato famine sends waves of impoverished Irish men and women to Boston. He spends seven years in the Boston public schools and is apprenticed to a printer at the age of 12.

Working first for the newspaper Boston Courier and then for a Boston printer, O’Brien excels at the printing business, making foreman when he is only fifteen. He starts his own publication, Shipping and Commercial List, and is soon successful enough to become a respected member of the Boston business elite.

O’Brien’s business success draws the attention of Patrick Maguire, publisher of The Republic newspaper and the unofficial head of Irish politics in Boston. He orchestrates O’Brien’s election to the city’s Board of Alderman.

Boston has long been controlled by native-born Protestants, generally called “Yankees,” most of whom have a stereotypical view of Irish immigrants as poor, ignorant, undisciplined, and under the thumb of the Catholic Church. But the Irish-born population of Boston is exploding, making up over 40% of the city’s population by 1885.

By 1883, Maguire decides that the time has come for Boston to elect an Irish-born mayor. He devises a two-part strategy. O’Brien will be the public face of the campaign, an able public official who criticizes the previous administration for increasing taxes. O’Brien’s pledge to reduce the tax rate without cutting city services appeals to the Yankee tradition of frugality. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Maguire develops a system of Irish ward bosses who visit each household in the neighborhood and make sure that every eligible Irishman votes for O’Brien. O’Brien sweeps 15 of Boston’s 25 wards and, on December 10, 1884, becomes the first Irish Catholic to be elected Mayor of Boston. He is sworn in on January 5, 1885.

O’Brien surprises the opposition by governing the city in a conservative and honest way during his four terms in office. He cuts tax rates as promised. He also widens streets, establishes the commission that hires Frederick Law Olmsted to design the Emerald Necklace park system, and builds the new Boston Public Library in Copley Square. He disarms his critics by enlisting Yankee and Republican businessmen to serve on the committees overseeing these projects.

Hugh O’Brien dies on August 1, 1895 and is buried at Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, Massachusetts.


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John Kennedy’s Address to Oireachtas

jfk-address-to-oireachtasUnited States President John F. Kennedy addresses a joint session of Houses of the Oireachtas in Dublin on June 28, 1963, on the third day of his Irish visit. It follows a visit earlier in the day to Cork where he is greeted like a rock star.

Kennedy makes a surprising mistake when speaking to a packed Dáil Éireann about one of the most momentous days for the Irish Brigade during the American Civil War. Somehow, Kennedy gets his dates and geography mixed up when he says, “The 13th day of September, 1862, will be a day long remembered in American history. At Fredericksburg, Maryland, thousands of men fought and died on one of the bloodiest battlefields of the American Civil War.” The date of the Battle of Fredericksburg where so many Irish are slaughtered is December 13 rather than September 13 as Kennedy states. Also, Fredericksburg is in Virginia and not Maryland.

Kennedy is accompanied on this European trip, which includes the famous Ich bin ein Berliner, speech by his counselor and speech writer Ted Sorensen, a master wordsmith and fastidious researcher who seems to have erred in the writing of the speech. It is unlikely that Kennedy mispronounced “December” as the transcript of the speech at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum includes the incorrect dates. No one in Dáil Éireann appears to notice Kennedy’s error.

Aside from this mistake, the speech is uplifting and motivating to an Irish nation that is still young. Kennedy says:

“This has never been a rich or powerful country, and yet, since earliest times, its influence on the world has been rich and powerful. No larger nation did more to keep Christianity and Western culture alive in their darkest centuries. No larger nation did more to spark the cause of independence in America, indeed, around the world. And no larger nation has ever provided the world with more literary and artistic genius.

This is an extraordinary country. George Bernard Shaw, speaking as an Irishman, summed up an approach to life: Other people, he said “see things and . . . say ‘Why?’ . . . But I dream things that never were – and I say: ‘Why not?’” ”

The complete audio version of Kennedy’s speech can be heard on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum website.


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Douglas Hyde Inaugurated First President of Ireland

douglas-hydeDr. Douglas Hyde, Gaelic scholar from County Roscommon, is inaugurated as the first President of Ireland on June 25, 1938.

Hyde is born at Longford House in Castlerea, County Roscommon, on January 17, 1860. In 1867, his father is appointed prebendary and rector of Tibohine, and the family moves to neighbouring Frenchpark, in County Roscommon. He is home schooled by his father and his aunt due to a childhood illness. While a young man, he becomes fascinated with hearing the old people in the locality speak the Irish language.

Rejecting family pressure to follow previous generations with a career in the Church, Hyde instead becomes an academic. He enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he gains a great facility for languages, learning Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, and German, but his great passion in life is the preservation of the Irish language.

After spending a year teaching modern languages in Canada, Hyde returns to Ireland. For much of the rest of his life he writes and collects hundreds of stories, poems, and folktales in Irish, and translates others. His work in Irish helps to inspire many other literary writers, such as W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory.

In 1892, Hyde helps establish the Gaelic Journal and in November of that year writes a manifesto called The necessity for de-anglicising the Irish nation, arguing that Ireland should follow her own traditions in language, literature, and even in dress.

In 1893, Hyde founds the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) along with Eoin MacNeill and Fr. Eugene O’Growney and serves as its first president. Many of the new generation of Irish leaders who play a central role in the fight for Irish independence in the early twentieth century, including Patrick Pearse, Éamon de Valera, Michael Collins, and Ernest Blythe first become politicised and passionate about Irish independence through their involvement in the Gaelic League. Hyde does not want the Gaelic League to be a political entity, so when the surge of Irish nationalism that the Gaelic League helps to foster begins to take control of many in the League and politicize it in 1915, Hyde resigns as president.

Hyde takes no active part in the armed upheaval of the 1910s and 1920s, but does serve in Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Irish Free State‘s Oireachtas, as a Free State senator in 1925-26. He then returns to academia, as Professor of Irish at University College Dublin, where one of his students is future Attorney General and President of Ireland Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh.

In 1938, Hyde is unanimously elected to the newly created position of President of Ireland, a post he holds until 1945. He is inaugurated on June 26, 1938, in the first inaugural ceremony in the nation’s history. He sets a precedent by reciting the Presidential Declaration of Office in Irish. His recitation, in Roscommon Irish, is one of a few recordings of a dialect of which Hyde is one of the last speakers. Upon inauguration, he moves into the long vacant Viceregal Lodge in Phoenix Park, since known as Áras an Uachtaráin.

Hyde’s selection and inauguration receive worldwide media attention and is covered by newspapers in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, and Egypt. Adolf Hitler “orders” the Berlin newspapers “to splash” on the Irish presidential installation ceremony. However, the British government ignores the event. The Northern Ireland Finance Minister, John Miller Andrews, described Hyde’s inauguration as a “slight on the King” and “a deplorable tragedy.”

Despite being placed in a position to shape the office of the presidency via precedent, Hyde by and large opts for a quiet, conservative interpretation of the office.

In April 1940 Hyde suffers a massive stroke and plans are made for his lying-in-state and state funeral, but to the surprise of everyone he survives, albeit paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. One of Hyde’s last presidential acts is a visit to the German ambassador Eduard Hempel on May 3, 1945 to offer his condolences on the death of Adolf Hitler, a visit which remains a secret until 2005.

Hyde leaves office on June 25, 1945, opting not to nominate himself for a second term. He opts not return to his Roscommon home due to his ill-health, but rather moves into the former Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant’s residence in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin, where he lived out the remaining four years of his life.

Hyde dies in Dublin on July 12, 1949 at age 89. As a former President of Ireland he is accorded a state funeral which, as a member of the Church of Ireland, takes place in Dublin’s Church of Ireland St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Since contemporary rules of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland at the time prohibit Roman Catholics from attending services in non-Catholic churches, all but one member of the Catholic cabinet remain outside the cathedral grounds while Hyde’s funeral takes place. Hyde is buried in Frenchpark, County Roscommon at Portahard Church.