seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Irish Republican Army S-Plan

s-plan-coventry-attackThe S-Plan or Sabotage Campaign or England Campaign, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) campaign of bombing and sabotage against the civil, economic, and military infrastructure of the United Kingdom, begins on January 16, 1939 and lasts until March 1940. The campaign is conceived by Seamus O’Donovan in 1938 at the request of then IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell. It is believed that Russell and Joseph McGarrity devised the strategy in 1936.

The S-Plan contains many precise instructions for acts of destruction which have as their object the paralysis of all official activity in England and the greatest possible destruction of British defence installations. It divides the IRA campaign into two main lines: propaganda and offensive (military) action.

Operations are strictly concentrated on the island of Britain, in and around centres of population where IRA volunteers can operate freely without drawing attention. No attacks on targets in Northern Ireland or other areas under British control are planned as part of the S-Plan.

Sources of funding for the campaign are not known, but once the campaign is operational, the weekly expenses for operations in the field amount to approximately £700. Operational units are expected to raise any money needed themselves, and the men who act within IRA teams are unpaid and expected to support themselves while on missions.

On January 12, 1939, the IRA Army Council sends an ultimatum, signed by Patrick Fleming, to British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax. The communiqué duly informs the British government of “The Government of the Irish Republic’s” intention to go to “war.”

On Sunday, January 15, with no reply from the British Government, a proclamation is posted in public places throughout Ireland announcing the IRA’s declaration of war on Britain. This proclamation is written by Joseph McGarrity, leader of Clan na Gael in the United States, and is signed by six members of the Army Council – Stephen Hayes, Patrick Fleming, Peadar O’Flaherty, George Oliver Plunkett, Larry Grogan and Seán Russell.

The five deaths during the Coventry bombing on August 25, 1939 effectively ends the campaign. By late 1940 the introduction of the Treason Act 1939 and the Offences Against the State Act 1939 in Ireland, and the Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Act in Britain lead to many IRA members interned in Ireland, arrested in Britain, or deported from Britain. The granting of extra powers to the Irish Justice Minister under the Emergency Powers Act in January 1940 leads to 600 IRA volunteers being imprisoned and 500 interned during the course of World War II alone.

The final figures resulting from the S-Plan are cited as 300 explosions, ten deaths and 96 injuries.

(Pictured: The aftermath of an IRA bike bomb in Coventry on August 25, 1939)


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Death of Pat Gillen, Irish D-Day Survivor

pat-gillenFormer Commando Pat Gillen, one of the last surviving Irish D-Day veterans, dies at the age of 89 at his home in Cork, County Cork on December 27, 2014. He is among the first wave of troops to land on Sword Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944.

A rifleman in the 6 Commando unit charged with securing the strategically important Pegasus Bridge near Caen, Gillen is never injured despite making a six-mile trek through marshland from the beach to Caen and spending weeks in the trenches at Saulnier. More than half his brigade falls in the face of vicious fire from German forces.

On his return to Ireland, Gillen applies for a job as a male stenographer with Ford Motor Company in Cork, where the company’s first plant outside the United States employs thousands of workers in the 1930s. Having studied Pitman shorthand, typing and bookkeeping at school, he is called for an interview that includes a shorthand test in which the only word “I could just not get right was carburetor.”

Not alone does Gillen land the job with the U.S. car and tractor firm, he also meets Rita, the daughter of his B&B landlady, whom he marries two years later. Blessed with a lively sense of humour, he has a natural flair for getting on with people and is assigned to Ford’s public relations division.

Gillen’s ease when dealing with journalists is an attribute that serves him well during an 11-year spell as Ford’s press officer, especially in the turbulent times leading up to its decision to close the Cork manufacturing plant in 1984, when he also retires after 38 years with the company.

A witty, unassuming man, Gillen’s abiding interests are gardening, his twelve grandchildren, the FCA, and letter-writing to wartime comrades, a practice he keeps up until weeks before his death.

On December 8, 2014, just over two weeks before his death and surrounded by his family in an emotional ceremony at the Mercy University Hospital in Cork, Gillen is presented with the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur by the French ambassador to Ireland, Jean-Pierre Thébault, in recognition of his courage and gallantry in the liberation of France. It is the highest French honour.

With characteristic generosity, Gillen dedicates the medal to fellow countrymen, including two cousins who fought in but did not survive World War II. “This award is as much theirs as mine,” he said. “By the grace of God, I survived to be here today while many of my friends sleep in the fields of France.”

At the time of his passing Gillen is surrounded by his family. Predeceased by Rita, he is survived by their four children, Robin, Mary, Patricia, and Gerard, his sister, Mary, and brothers Michael (“Chick”), Liam and Bobby. His sister Angela Scully also predeceases him.

(From: D-Day veteran who became Ford’s PR man in Cork, The Irish Times, January 17, 2015)


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Birth of Brigadier General Thomas Alfred Smyth

thomas-alfred-smythThomas Alfred Smyth, brigadier general in the Union Army during the American Civil War, is born in Ballyhooly, County Cork on December 25, 1832. He is the last Union general killed in the war. In March 1867, he is nominated and confirmed a brevet major general of volunteers posthumously to rank from April 7, 1865.

Smyth works on his father’s farm in Ireland as a youth. He emigrates to the United States in 1854, settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He participates in William Walker‘s expedition to Nicaragua. He is employed as a wood carver and coach and carriage maker. In 1858, he moves to Wilmington, Delaware.

In 1861 Smyth enlists in the Union army in an Irish American three-months regiment, the 24th Pennsylvania, and is quickly made a captain. He is later commissioned as a major of the 1st Delaware Infantry, a three-years regiment. He serves at the battles of Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg, following which he is promoted to lieutenant colonel and then to colonel. During the Gettysburg campaign, he commands the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division of the II Corps. During the Battle of Gettysburg, his men help defend Cemetery Ridge and advance to the area of the Bliss farm to oust enemy sharpshooters. He is wounded on the third day of the battle and relinquishes command briefly.

Smyth retains brigade command during the reorganization of II Corps before Ulysses S. Grant‘s Overland Campaign. He leads the second brigade of the first division from March 25 to May 17, 1864. When Colonel Samuel S. Carroll is wounded, Smyth is transferred to his command, the third brigade of second division, the Gibraltar Brigade. In October 1864, he is promoted to brigadier general during the Siege of Petersburg. He retains command of his brigade throughout the siege.

Between July 31, 1864 and August 22, 1864 and between December 23, 1864 and February 25, 1865, Smyth commands the 2nd division of the corps. In April 1865 near Farmville, Virginia, he is shot through the mouth by a sniper, with the bullet shattering his cervical vertebra and paralyzing him. He dies two days later at Burke’s Tavern, concurrent with the surrender of Robert E. Lee and his Confederate States Army at Appomattox Court House.

On March 18, 1867, President Andrew Johnson nominates Smyth for posthumous appointment to the grade of brevet major general of volunteers to rank from April 7, 1865, the date he was mortally wounded, and the United States Senate confirms the appointment on March 26, 1867. He is the last Union general killed or mortally wounded during the war, and is buried in Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware.


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The Battle of Colenso

battle-of-colensoOn December 15, 1899, Irish units of the Boer army face the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Connaught Rangers, and the 6th (Inniskillings) Dragoons in the battle of Colenso, the third and final battle fought during the Black Week of the Second Boer War. It is fought between British and Boer forces from the independent South African Republic and Orange Free State in and around Colenso, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Inadequate preparation and reconnaissance and uninspired leadership lead to a British defeat.

Early on the morning of December 15, Major General Arthur Henry Seton Hart-Synnot, commander of the 5th (Irish) Infantry Brigade, gives his men half an hour’s parade ground drill, then leads them in close column towards the Bridle Drift. However, his locally recruited guide, who speaks no English, leads the brigade towards the wrong ford, the Punt Drift at the end of a loop in the river. Louis Botha, commander of the Boers on this front, orders his men to hold their fire until the British attempt to cross the river. However Hart-Synnot’s brigade, jammed into the loop of the river, is too good a target to miss and the Boers open fire. Hart-Synnot’s brigade suffers over 500 casualties before they can be extricated. The battalions repeatedly try to extend to the left and locate the Bridle Drift. On each occasion, Hart-Synnot recalls them and sends them back into the loop.

Meanwhile, as Major-General Henry J. T. Hildyard moves his 2nd Infantry Brigade towards Colenso, the two batteries of field guns under Colonel Charles James Long forge ahead of him and deploy in the open well within rifle range of the nearest Boers. Once again, this is too tempting a target, and the Boers open fire. The British gunners fight on, even though suffering heavy casualties, but ammunition cannot be brought to them and they are eventually forced to take shelter in a dry stream bed behind the guns. The bullock-drawn naval guns have not been able to keep up with the field pieces, but are able to come into action 1,500 metres from the Boer trenches.

General Sir Redvers Buller, who has also heard that his light horse are pinned down at the foot of the hill known as Hlangwane south of the river and unable to advance, decides to call the battle off at this point, even though Hildyard’s men, advancing in open order, have just occupied Colenso. He goes forward, being slightly wounded himself, and calls for volunteers to recover Long’s guns. Two teams approach them, hook up and bring away two weapons. A second attempt to recover the rest of guns fails when horses and volunteers are shot down by Boer rifle fire.

During the afternoon, the British fall back to their camp, leaving ten guns, many wounded gunners and some of Hildyard’s men behind to be captured during the night. Although Buller had committed few of his reserves, he reasons that a full day under a boiling sun would have sapped their morale and strength. Major General Neville Lyttelton (4th Infantry Brigade) commits some of his troops to help Hart’s brigade withdraw, but the cautious Major General Geoffrey Barton (6th Infantry Brigade) refuses to support Lord Dundonald‘s or Hildyard’s hard-pressed troops.

Buller’s army loses 143 killed, 756 wounded and 220 captured. Boer casualties are eight killed and 30 wounded.

After the battle of Colenso, four soldiers are awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for gallantry that can be awarded to British forces. All crossed an exposed area of intense Boer fire and rescued two of the twelve guns of the 14th and 66th Batteries when their crews had become casualties or were driven from their weapons. They are Captain Walter Norris Congreve, Captain Harry Norton Schofield, Corporal George Edward Nurse and Lieutenant Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts, son of Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts, who died of his wounds two days later.

(Pictured: Boers capturing the British guns at the Battle of Colenso on December 15, 1899 in the Boer War. Picture by Fritz Neumann.)


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The Battle of Brihuega

File source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vendome-and-PhilipV.jpgThe Irish “Hibernia” regiment and other Irish units of Spain fight at the Battle of Brihuega on December 8, 1710 in the War of the Spanish Succession, during the allied retreat from Madrid to Barcelona. The British rearguard under James Stanhope, 1st Earl Stanhope, is cut off within the town of Brihuega and overwhelmed by a Franco-Spanish army under Louis Joseph de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme. Brihuega with other events brings an end to the British participation in the war.

The Duke of Vendôme sets out from Talavera de la Reina with his troops and pursues the retreating British army with a speed perhaps never equalled in such a season and in such a country. The middle-aged Frenchman leads his Franco-Spanish army day and night. In typical Vendôme style, he swims, at the head of his cavalry, the flooded Henares and in a few days overtakes Stanhope, who is at Brihuega with the left wing of the Grand Alliance army.

“Nobody with me,” said the British general, “imagined that they had any foot within some days’ march of us and our misfortune is owing to the incredible diligence which their army made.” Stanhope has barely enough time to send off a messenger to the centre of the army, which is some leagues from Brihuega, before Vendôme is upon him on the evening of December 8. The next morning the town is invested on every side.

Blasting the walls of Brihuega with heavy cannon, a mine is sprung under one of the gates. The British keep up a terrible fire until their powder is spent. They then fight desperately against overwhelming odds as Vendôme’s men storm the city with bayonets fixed and begin to take the town by bloody close quarters fighting, street by street. The British set fire to the buildings which their assailants have taken but in vain. The British general sees that further resistance will produce only a useless carnage. He concludes a capitulation and his army becomes prisoners of war on honourable terms.

Scarcely had Vendôme signed the capitulation, when he learns that General Guido Starhemberg is marching to the relief of Stanhope. On December 10 the two meet in the bloody Battle of Villaviciosa, after which Starhemberg continues the allied retreat.

The British troops do not remain in captivity for very long before they are exchanged and sent home in October 1711.

The defeat helps justify the Harley ministry‘s plan to agree to a compromise peace with France at the Treaty of Utrecht. Opponents of the deal protest on the grounds of “No Peace Without Spain.” Nonetheless Allied forces are withdrawn, with the final action taking place at the Siege of Barcelona in 1714.


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The Siege of Smerwick

smerwick-massacre-memorialFollowing a three-day siege, the English Army beheads over 600 Papal soldiers and civilians at Dún an Óir, County Kerry on November 10, 1580.

On November 5, a naval force led by Admiral Sir William Wynter arrives at Smerwick Harbour, replenishing the supplies of Arthur Grey, 14th Baron Grey de Wilton, who is camped at Dingle, and landing eight artillery pieces. On November 7, Lord Grey de Wilton lays siege to the Smerwick garrison. The invading forces are geographically isolated on the tip of the narrow Dingle Peninsula, cut off by Mount Brandon, one of the highest mountains in Ireland, on one side and the much larger English force on the other. The English forces begin the artillery barrage on Dún an Óir on the morning of the November 8, which rapidly breaks down the improvised defences of the fort.

After a three-day siege, the commander Sebastiano di San Giuseppe surrenders on November 10. Accounts vary on whether they had been granted quarter. Grey de Wilton orders the summary executions, sparing only the commanders. Grey has also heard that the main Irish rebel army of 4,000 are somewhere in the hills to his east, looking to be rearmed and supplied by Di San Giuseppe, and they might in turn surround his army but this army never appears.

According to Grey de Wilton’s account, contained in a despatch to Queen Elizabeth I dated November 11, 1580, he rejects an approach made by the besieged Spanish and Italian forces to agree to terms of a conditional surrender in which they would cede the fort and leave. Lord Grey de Wilton claims that he insisted that they surrender without preconditions and put themselves at his mercy, and that he subsequently rejects a request for a ceasefire. An agreement is finally made for an unconditional surrender the next morning, with hostages being taken by English forces to ensure compliance. The following morning, an English force enters the fort to secure and guard armaments and supplies.

Local historian Margaret Anna Cusack notes in 1871 that there is a degree of controversy about Lord Grey de Wilton’s version of events to Elizabeth, and identifies three other contemporary accounts, by O’Daly, O’Sullivan Beare and Russell, which contradict it. According to these versions, Grey de Wilton promises the garrison their lives in return for their surrender, a promise which he breaks. Like Grey himself, none of these commentators can be described as neutral, as they are all either serving the state or opposed to it. Cusack’s interpretation of the events cannot be described as unbiased, given her position as a Catholic nun and fervent Irish nationalist at the time.

According to Cusack, the few that are spared suffer a worse fate. They are offered life if they renounce their Catholic faith. On refusal, their arms and legs are broken in three places by an ironsmith. They are left in agony for a day and night and then hanged.

According to the folklore of the area, the execution of the captives takes two days, with many of the captives being beheaded in a field known locally in Irish as Gort a Ghearradh (the Field of the Cutting). Their bodies are later thrown into the sea. Archaeologists have not yet discovered human remains at the site, although a nearby field is known as Gort na gCeann (the Field of the Heads) and local folklore recalls the massacre.

(Pictured: A memorial to the victims of the massacre at Dún an Óir)


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The Grange Ambush

grange-ambush-memorialAn Irish Republican Army (IRA) column mounts an ambush at Grange, County Limerick on November 8, 1920.

Approximately fifty men of 3rd Battalion East Limerick IRA parade at 5:00 AM on the cold bleak morning of November 8. They are armed with 21 rifles and 21 shotguns, plus a small quantity of explosives. It has been decided to ambush a convoy at Grange Bridge, a point about eight miles from Limerick and about four miles from Bruff. They set out and occupy positions around John O’Neill’s house. The ambush site is about four miles from the big British garrison at Bruff to the south. The IRA expects two British lorries around 9:00 AM, however, in the end eight lorries and two armoured cars arrive at noon.

It is a joint action involving the flying columns of both the 3rd Battalion East Limerick Brigade and the 4th Battalion Mid Limerick Brigade, supported by men from the local companies of Bruff, Grange and Holy Cross in the East Limerick Brigade and from the Fedamore and Ballybricken Companies of the Mid Limerick Brigade. Donnchadha O’Hannigan has overall command of the combined columns and most of the ambushers are placed in houses and behind walls on both sides of the road. Among the IRA men who take part in the action is their chaplain, the Curate at Fedamore, Fr. William Joseph Carroll, who had been awarded the Military Cross for bravery in 1918 by the British Army. Also among the attackers is Maurice Meade, who had been a member of Roger Casement‘s Irish Brigade in Germany.

Something makes the British suspicious and they send one lorry ahead as a decoy. It is bombed by the IRA and raked with small arms fire. At this point, a British armoured car appears, with an officer mounted on the running board firing a revolver and its machine gun firing at the IRA at close range. The IRA account names the officer on the running board as Lt. Watling and they believe that they wounded him and he died in the hospital at Bruff that night.

More British reinforcements appear and the IRA realises that they are up against a vastly larger force than they had anticipated, so they retreat. Apart from one minor wounded man, they have no casualties.

The Royal Fusiliers‘ account says while escorting a Royal Air Force convoy from Fermoy to Oranmore, Lieutenant Allan and thirty other ranks are ambushed at Grange, near Bruff. The rebels, however, are speedily dealt with, and a quantity of arms, ammunition and two prisoners are taken. Unfortunately, Flying Officer Watling and Bandsman Bailey are wounded, the latter seriously. The only other casualty is Private French, who is shot at when a sentry at Galbally, and has the back luck of losing his arm.