seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Liam Tobin, Irish Army Officer & IRA Intelligence Officer

Liam Tobin, officer in the Irish Army and the instigator of the Irish Army Mutiny in March 1924, dies in Dublin on April 30, 1963. During the Irish War of Independence, he serves as an Irish Republican Army (IRA) intelligence officer for Michael CollinsSquad.

Tobin is born William Joseph Tobin at 13 Great Georges Street in Cork, County Cork, on November 15, 1895, the eldest son of Mary Agnes (nee Butler) and David Tobin, a hardware clerk. He has two younger siblings, Katherine and Nicholas Augustine Tobin, also born in Cork. His family moves to John Street in Kilkenny and then to Dublin. He goes to school in Kilkenny and is an apprentice in a hardware shop at the time of the 1916 Easter Rising. As a participant in the Rising he fights in the Four Courts garrison under Edward Daly. He is arrested, court martialed, and sentenced to death but his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment. He is a prisoner in Kilmainham, Mountjoy, Lewes, Dartmoor, Broadmoor and Pentonville prisons. He is released in June 1917.

In early 1919 Tobin becomes Collins’ chief executive in the Intelligence Directorate handling the many spies in Dublin Castle, including double agent David Neligan. Nancy O’Brien works for Under-Secretary for Ireland James Macmahon, decoding messages sent from London. Each day between 2:30 and 3:30 she passes any information acquired to either Tobin, Joseph McGrath, or Desmond FitzGerald. Tobin is involved in planning the assassinations of British soldiers, informants, members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and operatives of MI5. He constructs detailed profiles of everyone remotely connected to the British government, often using Who’s Who, The Morning Post, and The Times, a newspaper that describes him as “one of the most formidable of [the] Twelve Apostles.”

In October 1921, Tobin travels with the Irish Treaty Delegation as part of Collins’ personal staff.

Tim Pat Coogan and James Mackay have examined Tobin’s involvement in the assassination of British Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson. Wilson’s public tirades about Collins is evidence of mutual personal dislike between the two men. In May 1922 Collins tells Tobin “We’ll kill a member of that bunch” to the news of “bloody pogroms” in Belfast. Wilson is intimately involved with the Ulster loyalist cause, including the Curragh Mutiny and the establishment of the Ulster Special Constabulary. Just before the shooting, Coogan places Tobin in London. He meets courier Peig Ni Braonain at Euston Station collecting a document that has been sent from Dublin. Returning to Dublin before the incident, he is jubilant when he tells defence minister Richard Mulcahy about Wilson’s death. Mulcahy is appalled and threatens to resign.

Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Tobin is appointed deputy director of intelligence in the new state and assigned to the Criminal Investigation Department based at Oriel House. However Collins soon replaces him with Joseph McGrath. Tobin is placed on the Army Council and is Director of Intelligence from September 1922 until his appointment as Senior Aide-de-Camp to the new GovernorGeneral of the Irish Free State, Tim Healy, in November 1922. The position provides an apartment in Viceregal Lodge.

In October 1922, Tobin’s brother Nicholas, a Free State captain, is accidentally shot dead by his own troops during the raid and capture of a bomb making factory at number 8 Gardiner’s Place, Dublin.

Tobin believes in the stepping stone doctrine which sees the Treaty as a stage towards full independence. With the outbreak of the Irish Civil War he remains loyal to Collins and takes the Pro-Treaty side. He leads in the fight against the Anti-Treaty IRA in the south. Disillusioned with the continuing hostilities and in the aftermath of the death of Collins, he forms an association called the IRA Organisation (IRAO) or “Old Irish Republican Army” to distinguish themselves from the anti-treaty insurgents.

Richard Mulcahy, the new Irish defence minister, proposes to reduce the army from 55,000 to 18,000 men in the immediate post- Civil-War period. Tobin knows his own position is to be affected and shares the perception that the Irish Army treats former British officers better than former IRA officers. On March 7, 1924, Tobin, together with Colonel Charlie Dalton, sends an ultimatum to President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State W. T. Cosgrave demanding an end to the army demobilisation. The immediate response is an order for the arrest of the two men on a charge of mutiny. The cabinet, already wary of the Irish Army, orders an inquiry and appoints Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy to the army command.

On March 18, the mutineers assemble with hostile intent at a Dublin pub. An order is made to arrest the mutineers and the cabinet demands the resignation of the army council. The generals resign, affirming the subservience of the military to the civilian government of the new state.

In later years, Tobin rebuilds relations with his Civil War foes and joins Éamon de Valera‘s Anti-Treaty Fianna Fáil party. He joins up with Joseph McGrath to form the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake in the 1930s. Many other former army comrades find work in this lottery. He leaves the Sweep in 1938. After World War II, he becomes Superintendent of the Oireachtas for the Irish Dáil.

On October 14, 1929, Tobin marries Monica “Mona” Higgins at the Church of the Holy Family, Aughrim Street, Dublin. They have two daughters, Máire and Anne Tobin. Following the death of his father, David, in 1956, Tobin’s health declines, resulting in his death in Dublin on April 30, 1963.

Tobin is portrayed by actor Brendan Gleeson in Neil Jordan‘s biopic Michael Collins.


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Birth of William Lawless, Officer in Napoleon’s Irish Legion

General William Lawless, surgeon, revolutionary, and officer in Napoleon‘s Irish Legion, is born in Dublin on April 20, 1772. He is also an important member of the Society of the United Irishmen, a revolutionary republican organisation in late 18th century Ireland.

Lawless, a Catholic, is the confidant of Lord Edward FitzGerald, and Professor of Anatomy and Physiology in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin. Closely connected with John Sheares in the direction of affairs in the spring of 1798, a warrant for his arrest is issued on May 20 with a reward of £300. Timely notice is, however, given him of the fact by Mr. Stewart, the Surgeon-General, and he escapes to France, where his abilities and spirit recommend him to the special favour of Napoleon. While in Paris, he spends time with other United Irishmen in exile, including Myles Byrne and William James MacNeven.

Lawless is placed on half-pay in 1800, but in 1803 is appointed captain of the Irish Legion, and in July 1806 is ordered to Vlissingen, then besieged by the English, to command the Irish battalion. To reach his post he has to pass in a small open boat through the English fleet. He is dangerously wounded in a sortie, and when General Monet capitulates without stipulating for the treatment of the Irish as prisoners of war, Lawless escapes from the town with the eagle of his regiment, conceals himself for two months in a doctor’s house, and at length finds an opportunity of getting to Antwerp by night in a fishing boat. Marshall Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte welcomes him, extols him in general orders, and reports his exploits to Napoleon, who summons him to Paris, decorates him with the Legion of Honour, and promotes him to be lieutenant-colonel. In 1812 he gains a colonelcy, and on August 21, 1813 he loses a leg at the Battle of Dresden. He retires to his country house in Tours.

After the restoration of the Bourbons, Lawless is returned, in October 1814, to half-pay with the rank of brigadier-general. He dies in Paris at the age of 52 on December 25, 1824. His remains are buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. He is one of the best officers of the last large French unit of The Wild Geese. Thomas Moore describes him as “a person of that mild and quiet exterior which is usually found to accompany the most determined spirit.”

(Pictured: Gravesite of General William Lawless in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France)


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Brig. Gen. Thomas Smyth Mortally Wounded in the American Civil War

Thomas Alfred Smyth, a brigadier general in the Union Army during the American Civil War, is mortally wounded in a battle near Farmville, Virginia, on April 7, 1865. He dies two days later. He is the last Union general killed in the war.

Smyth is born on December 25, 1832 in Ballyhooly, Cork County, and works on his father’s farm 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.

Smyth is a Freemason. He is raised on March 6, 1865 in Washington Lodge No. 1 in Wilmington, Delaware.

Smyth enlists in 1861 in the Union Army in an Irish American three-months regiment, the 24th Pennsylvania, and quickly makes the rank of captain. He is later commissioned as major of the 1st Delaware Infantry, a three-years regiment. He serves at the battles of Fredericksburg (following which he is promoted to lieutenant colonel and then to colonel) and Chancellorsville. 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 General Ulysses S. Grant‘s Overland Campaign. He leads the second brigade of the first division from March 25 to May 17, 1864. When Col. 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. On April 7, 1865 near Farmville, Virginia, he is shot through the mouth by a Confederate sniper, with the bullet shattering his cervical vertebrae and paralyzing him. He dies two days later at Burke’s Tavern, the same day Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his army surrender at Appomattox Court House.

On March 18, 1867, President of the United States 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. Smyth 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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Birth of Máirín Cregan, Nationalist, Playwright, & Novelist

Máirín Cregan, Irish nationalist who is involved in the 1916 Easter Rising and Irish War of Independence, is born in Killorglin, County Kerry, on March 27, 1891. She later makes her name writing for children, as well as writing plays and novels for adults.

Mary Ellen Cregan is born to Morgan Cregan and Ellen O’Shea. Her father is a stonemason from Limerick. The family are strong believers in the Gaelic revival movement and Cregan herself learns the Irish language and performs songs at Gaelic League concerts. Although she goes to primary school locally, she goes away to secondary school to St. Louis Convent in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan. After finishing school, she becomes a teacher, working in Goresbridge, County Kilkenny from 1911 to 1914.

In September 1914 Cregan goes to Dublin to study music in the Leinster School of Music, under Madame Coslett Heller. It is while she is in Dublin that she becomes friends with the Ryan family, who are strong nationalists as well as interested in the Gaelic League and Sinn Féin. She begins to sing for concerts which are fundraisers for the Irish Volunteers. The last concert is just two weeks before the Easter Rising.

During Easter week Cregan is sent to Tralee with “automatics and ammunition” by Seán Mac Diarmada. While she is carrying a violin case of munitions, she is also carrying details for the wireless technology needed for communicating with the SS Aud, the boat which is carrying more weapons for the rebellion. The communications with the SS Aud goes wrong when the car carrying the Volunteers goes off a pier and the occupants are drowned. She is still in the area to assist with the surviving Volunteer, who unfortunately knows nothing of the details for the SS Aud. She is not easily able to get back to Dublin, because owing to the Rising the city is cut off. By the time she gets back, her friends have been arrested.

When Cregan is going to school in Dublin she is also working in a school in Rathmines. Like many of the teachers, she loses her job after the rising because of her connection to the rebels. However, she is able to get new positions over the next few years in both Ballyshannon and Portstewart until she marries. In Ballyshannon she experiences the early expressions of support and sympathy, but Portstewart is a Unionist enclave with many houses flying union flags on polling day in 1918.

Cregan is a member of Cumann na mBan and with them is active during the Irish War of Independence. She is given a medal for her participation. On July 23, 1919 she marries Dr. James Ryan in Athenry, County Galway. His entire family had been deeply involved in the Easter Rising, as well as the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. They have three children, Eoin, who becomes a Senator, Nuala (Colgan) and Seamus.

The family is initially based in Wexford during the War. The house is often raided when the British soldiers are looking for her husband and Cregan herself is arrested in February 1921 for refusing to put up martial law posters. Later the family sells the house and remains mobile while she works for the Sinn Féin government and her husband is in prison. It is during this time that she works as a courier to the continent and to London. After the war, they purchase Kindlestown House in Delgany, County Wicklow, where they remain for the rest of their lives.

Cregan works as a journalist for The Irish Press and The Sunday Press. Her political awareness and involvement means that her work there is on political articles.

Cregan’s first book for children is Old John and gains her considerable international success and attention. Sean Eoin is also published in Irish, and is illustrated by Jack Butler Yeats. Her work is also aired on the BBC and RTÉ. Rathina wins the Downey Award in the United States in 1943. She also writes two plays: Hunger strike (1933), based on experience of her husband’s involvement in such a strike, which is broadcast on Radio Éireann on May 5, 1936, and Curlew’s call (1940).

Cregan dies on November 9, 1975 in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, and is buried in Redford cemetery near her home in County Wicklow.

(Pictured: Máirín Cregan and her husband, Dr. James Ryan)


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The Black and Tans Arrive In Ireland

The Black and Tans (Irish: Dúchrónaigh), special constables recruited into the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) as reinforcements during the Irish War of Independence, arrive in Ireland on March 25, 1920. Recruitment begins in Great Britain in January 1920 and about 10,000 men enlist during the conflict. The vast majority are unemployed former British soldiers from Britain who had fought in World War I. Some sources count a small number of Irishmen as Black and Tans.

The British administration in Ireland promotes the idea of bolstering the RIC with British recruits. They are to help the overstretched RIC maintain control and suppress the Irish Republican Army (IRA), although they are less well trained in ordinary policing. The nickname “Black and Tans” arises from the colours of the improvised uniforms they initially wear, a mixture of dark green RIC (which appears black) and khaki British Army. They serve in all parts of Ireland, but most are sent to southern and western regions where fighting is heaviest. By 1921, Black and Tans make up almost half of the RIC in County Tipperary, for example.

Few Black and Tans are sent to what becomes Northern Ireland, however. The authorities there raise their own reserve force, the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC). For the most part, the Black and Tans are “treated as ordinary constables, despite their strange uniforms, and they live and work in barracks alongside the Irish police.” They spend most of their time manning police posts or on patrol—”walking, cycling, or riding on Crossley Tenders.” They also undertake guard, escort and crowd control duties. While some Irish constables get along well with the Black and Tans, “it seems that many Irish police did not like their new British colleagues” and se them as “rough.”

Alexander Will, from Forfar in Scotland, is the first Black and Tan to die in the conflict. He is killed during an IRA attack on the RIC barracks in Rathmore, County Kerry, on July 11, 1920.

The Black and Tans gain a reputation for brutality and become notorious for reprisal attacks on civilians and civilian property, including extrajudicial killings, arson and looting. Their actions further sway Irish public opinion against British rule and draw condemnation in Britain.

The Black and Tans are sometimes confused with the Auxiliary Division, a counterinsurgency unit of the RIC, also recruited during the conflict and made up of former British officers. However, sometimes the term “Black and Tans” covers both groups. Some sources say the Black and Tans are officially named the “RIC Special Reserve,” but this is denied by other sources, which say they are not a separate force but “recruits to the regular RIC” and “enlisted as regular constabulary.”

More than a third leave the service before they are disbanded along with the rest of the RIC in 1922, an extremely high wastage rate, and well over half receive government pensions. Over 500 members of the RIC died in the conflict and more than 600 are wounded. Some sources state that 525 police are killed in the conflict, including 152 Black and Tans and 44 Auxiliaries. This figure of total police killed also includes 72 members of the Ulster Special Constabulary killed between 1920 and 1922 and 12 members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

Many Black and Tans are left unemployed after the RIC is disbanded and about 3,000 are in need of financial assistance after their employment in Ireland is terminated. About 250 Black and Tans and Auxiliaries, among over 1,300 former RIC personnel, join the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Another 700 joined the Palestine Police Force which is led by former British Chief of Police in Ireland, Henry Hugh Tudor. Others are resettled in Canada or elsewhere by the RIC Resettlement branch. Those who return to civilian life sometimes have problems re-integrating. At least two former Black and Tans are hanged for murder in Britain and another, Scott Cullen, wanted for murder, commits suicide before the police can arrest him.

(Pictured: Sir Hamar Greenwood inspects a group of Black and Tans in 1921)


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The Upton Train Ambush

The Upton train ambush takes place on February 15, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) mounts an attack on a train carrying British soldiers at Upton, County Cork. The action is a disaster for the IRA with three of its volunteers killed and two wounded. Six British soldiers are wounded, three seriously. Six civilian passengers are killed and ten wounded in the crossfire.

According to a study of the region, Cork is “by far the most violent county in Ireland” during the War of Independence and has several active guerrilla brigades. Of these, the 3rd Cork Brigade is one of the most effective and it is a unit from this Brigade that carries out the Upton ambush.

Up until the end of 1920, the British had been unable to move troops by train, due to a nationwide boycott by railway workers of trains carrying the British military. However, the strike is lifted in December 1920. While this helps the British military’s mobility, it also gives the IRA a new target: trains carrying soldiers. A week before the Upton ambush, the local IRA had made a successful attack on a train travelling from Killarney to Millstreet near Drishanbeg, killing one sergeant and wounding five more soldiers.

Five days after the Drishanbeg ambush, plans are made for an attack at Upton and Innishannon railway station on a train traveling between Cork city and Bandon. The ambushers, led by Charlie Hurley, are thirteen strong. Seven are armed with rifles and the remainder with revolvers or semi-automatic pistols. They take up position at the station ten minutes before the train pulls in, imprisoning the station master, clearing the station and taking cover behind sacks of grain and flour taken from a store.

The train is carrying approximately 50 British soldiers of the Essex Regiment, who are mingled with civilian passengers throughout the train’s carriages. The IRA party is therefore quite heavily outnumbered and out-gunned, but are unaware of this, as two IRA scouts, who were supposed to have been on the train and signaled to them the British numbers, never turn up. They also wrongly believe that the British troops are all in the central carriage. As a result, when the IRA opens fire on the train, there are heavy civilian casualties, including two commercial travelers killed by the first volley. The New York Times reports that “a shower of bullets was rained on the train, practically every compartment being swept.”

The firefight lasts only ten minutes, but in that time six civilian passengers are killed and ten wounded. Six British soldiers are injured, three of them seriously. Two IRA volunteers are killed outright and another is fatally wounded. Two more are badly wounded but survive. Charlie Hurley, who had led the ambush, is struck in the face by a bullet. IRA leader Tom Barry later writes, “Through some miracle, the nine unwounded and two wounded got away across country, in small parties, with the British following close behind.” Three civilian passengers, one unwounded and two wounded, are detained by the British on suspicion of belonging to the ambush party.

The Upton ambush is part of what Tom Barry describes as “twelve dark days” for the 3rd Cork Brigade of the IRA. Between February 4 and February 16, eleven members of the Brigade are killed. One is shot dead by British troops when they raid a safehouse on February 4, another dies in an accidental shooting on February 7, two more (brothers James and Timothy Coffey) are assassinated in their beds on February 14 by Black and Tans or Auxiliaries, three die at Upton on February 15 and four are killed on February 16 when they are arrested by the Essex Regiment in Kilbrittain while digging a trench and shot dead. Of the eleven dead, only those at Upton are killed in combat.

The Upton attack also highlights the dangers, and particularly the risk to civilians, of attacking trains carrying troops. Only a month later at the Headford Ambush in neighbouring County Kerry, an IRA column successfully attacks a train-load of troops, but again, there are civilian casualties alongside the IRA and British Army losses. One of the three men captured by the British at Upton is reported to give information leading to the 3rd Cork Brigade’s main column of over 100 fighters almost being encircled at the Crossbarry Ambush. Hurley is killed in this action.

The Upton ambush is later made famous in a popular 1960s Irish ballad titled “The Lonely Woods of Upton.”

(Pictured: A portion of the cover of an Italian magazine from 1921 that reported on the Upton ambush)


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Death of James “Jemmy” Hope, United Irishmen Leader

James “Jemmy” Hope, Society of United Irishmen leader who fights in the Irish Rebellions of 1798 and 1803 against British rule in Ireland, dies on February 10, 1847 at his son Henry’s home, 1 Lancaster St., Belfast.

Hope is born in Templepatrick, County Antrim, on August 25, 1764 to a Presbyterian family originally of Covenanter stock. He is apprenticed as a linen weaver but attends night school in his spare time. Influenced by the American Revolution, he joins the Irish Volunteers, but upon the demise of that organisation and further influenced by the French Revolution, he joins the Society of the United Irishmen in 1795.

Hope quickly establishes himself as a prominent organiser and is elected to the central committee in Belfast, becoming close to leaders such as Samuel Neilson, Thomas Russell, and Henry Joy McCracken. He is almost alone among the United Irish leaders in targeting manufacturers as well as landowners as the enemies of all radicals. In 1796, he is sent to Dublin to assist the United Irish organisation there to mobilise support among the working classes, and he is successful in establishing several branches throughout the city and especially in The Liberties area. He also travels to counties in Ulster and Connacht, disseminating literature and organizing localities.

Upon the outbreak of the 1798 rebellion in Leinster, Hope is sent on a failed mission to Belfast by Henry Joy McCracken to brief the leader of the County Down United Irishmen, Rev. William Steel Dickson, with news of the planned rising in County Antrim, unaware that Dickson had been arrested only a couple of days before. He manages to escape from Belfast in time to take part in the Battle of Antrim where he plays a skillful and courageous role with his “Spartan Band,” in covering the retreat of the fleeing rebels after their defeat.

Hope manages to rejoin McCracken and his remaining forces after the battle at their camp upon Slemish mountain, but the camp gradually disperses, and the dwindling band of insurgents are then forced to go on the run. He successfully eludes capture, but his friend McCracken is captured and executed on July 17. Upon the collapse of the general rising, he refuses to avail of the terms of an amnesty offered by Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis on the grounds that to do so would be “not only a recantation of one’s principles, but a tacit acquiescence in the justice of the punishment which had been inflicted on thousands of my unfortunate associates.”

Hope lives the years following 1798 on the move between counties Dublin, Meath and Westmeath but is finally forced to flee Dublin following the failure of Robert Emmet‘s rebellion in 1803. He returns to the north and evades the authorities attentions in the ensuing repression by securing employment with a sympathetic friend from England. He is today regarded as the most egalitarian and socialist of all the United Irish leadership.

After suffering poor health for some years, Hope dies on February 10, 1847 at his son Henry’s home, 1 Lancaster St., Belfast. He is buried in the Mallusk Cemetery, Newtownabbey, County Antrim. The headstone is raised by his friends, Henry Joy McCracken’s sister Mary Ann, and the Shankill Road United Irishman Isreal Milliken. The historian Richard Robert Madden, who had encouraged Hope to write his memoirs, supplies the inscription. The headstone features the outline of a large dog, which supposedly brought provisions to him and his compatriots when they were hiding following the Battle of Antrim.


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The Clonfin Ambush

The Clonfin Ambush is carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on February 2, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. It takes place in the townland of Clonfin between Ballinalee and Granard in County Longford. The IRA ambushes two lorries carrying members of the British Auxiliary Division, sparking a lengthy gun battle in which four Auxiliaries are killed and eight wounded. The Auxiliaries eventually surrender and their weapons are seized. The IRA commander, Seán Mac Eoin, wins some praise for helping the wounded Auxiliaries. Following the ambush, British forces burn a number of houses and farms in the area, and shoot dead an elderly farmer.

The IRA’s North Longford Flying Column, twenty-one strong and led by Seán Mac Eoin, is formed in late 1920. In that year they kill four Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) constables. In November, a company of the Auxiliary Division – a paramilitary police force made up of ex-military officers – has been stationed in the county to put down the local IRA, and are reinforced in January 1921. Whereas previously the IRA had tried to operate in relatively large numbers, often attacking police barracks, from this point forward, their GHQ in Dublin orders smaller but more frequent attacks to be made.

The ambush site, on the road between Granard and Ballinalee, is well chosen. Mac Eoin selects a position where the ambushers have excellent cover and are barely visible to the British. The plan is to explode a mine as the lorries pass. The British assessment is that, “the ambush was most cleverly laid.”

The IRA detonates the roadside improvised explosive device (IED) as two British lorries are passing a bridge, killing the driver of the first lorry instantly. The IRA unit then opens fire on the lorries, triggering a fire-fight lasting two hours. One of the Auxiliaries gets away and manages to summon reinforcements.

During the fighting, four members of the IRA party work their way around the flank of the Auxiliaries, killing their commander, Lt. Commander Francis Craven. After his death, the remaining policemen surrender. A total of four Auxiliaries are killed and eight wounded.

MacEoin’s treatment of his prisoners is humane. He congratulates them on the fight they had put up and prevents his fighters from assaulting the Auxiliaries. He also has water brought from nearby houses for the British wounded. When he is later captured by the British, three Auxiliaries testify at his courtmartial to his generous treatment of them at Clonfin. Mac Eoin’s humane treatment reportedly delays the IRA’s getaway and they are almost caught by 14 lorries of British reinforcements as they escape across Clonfin Wood. The IRA had captured 18 rifles, 20 revolvers ammunition, a Lewis gun and 800 rounds of ammunition.

In the aftermath of the ambush, British forces raid the nearby towns of Killoe, Ballinamuck, Drumlish, Ballinalee, Edgeworthstown, Granard and Ardagh. A number of houses and farms are burned. They shoot dead an elderly farmer, Michael Farrell, in reprisal for the ambush.

The IRA flying column lays low after the ambush and does not attempt any more attacks until the end of the month. MacEoin, the Longford IRA leader, is captured at Mullingar railway station in early March and charged with the murder of RIC DI MGrath. He is released in July under the terms of the Truce which ends hostilities. In his absence, the Longford IRA are not able to sustain the intensity of their campaign.

A stone monument is erected at the site of the ambush in 1971 to mark the 50th anniversary of the event. The IRA combatants are MacEoin (Ballinalee), Sean Duffy (Ballinalee), James J. Brady (Ballinamuck), Tom Brady (Cartronmarkey), Paddy Callaghan (Clonbroney), Seamus Conway (Clonbroney), Pat Cooke (Tubber), Seamus Farrelly (Purth), Paddy Finnegan (Molly), Larry Geraghty (Ballymore), Mick Gormley (Killoe), Hugh Hourican (Clonbroney), Jack Hughes (Scrabby), Mick Kenny (Clonbroney), Paddy Lynch (Colmcille), John McDowell (Clonbroney), Jack Moore (Streete), Mick Mulligan (Willsbrook), Michael F. Reynolds (Killoe), Sean Sexton (Ballinalee) and Jim Sheeran (Killoe).

(Pictured: The stone monument located at Clonfin, near the village of Ballinalee, County Longford, marking the site of the ambush. Erected in 1971 to mark the 50th anniversary of the event, the limestone monument features strong military, anti-British language and symbolism.)


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The Soloheadbeg Ambush

The Soloheadbeg ambush takes place on January 21, 1919, when members of the Irish Volunteers, which becomes the Irish Republican Army (IRA) later that year, ambush Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) officers who are escorting a consignment of gelignite explosives at Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary. Two RIC officers are killed and their weapons and the explosives are seized. As it happens on the same day that the revolutionary Irish parliament first meets and declares Ireland’s independence, it is often seen as the first engagement of the Irish War of Independence.

In April 1916, during World War I, Irish republicans launch an uprising against British rule in Ireland, called the Easter Rising. They proclaim an Irish Republic. After a week of heavy fighting, mostly in Dublin, the rising is put down by British forces. About 3,500 people are taken prisoner by the British, many of whom had played no part in the Rising. Most of the Rising’s leaders are executed. The rising, the British response, and the British attempt to introduce conscription in Ireland, leads to an even greater public support for Irish republicanism.

In the 1918 Irish general election, the Irish republican party Sinn Féin wins a landslide victory in Ireland, gaining 73 out of 105 seats in the British Parliament. However, in its election manifesto, the party has vowed to set up a separate government in Ireland rather than sit in the British Parliament. At a meeting in Dublin on January 21, 1919, Sinn Féin establishes an independent parliament called Dáil Éireann and declares independence from the United Kingdom.

That same day, an ambush is carried out by Irish Volunteers from the 3rd Tipperary Brigade. It involves Seán Treacy, Dan Breen, Seán Hogan, Séumas Robinson, Tadhg Crowe, Patrick McCormack, Patrick O’Dwyer and Michael Ryan. Robinson is the commander of the group that carries out the attack and Treacy coordinates the planning of the attack. The unit involved acts on its own initiative as had they had to wait for a response, even if it is affirmative, it might come too late.

In December 1918, they receive information that there are plans to move a consignment of gelignite from Tipperary British Army barracks to the Soloheadbeg quarry. They begin plans to intercept the consignment and Dan Breen’s brother Lars, who works at the quarry, receives information that the consignment is to be moved around January 16, 1919. They anticipate that there would be between two and six armed escorts, and they discuss different plans. If the escort is small, they believe they can overpower the RIC officers without firing a shot. Gags and ropes are hidden in the quarry, so that should officers surrender they can be bound and gagged. The planning for the ambush takes place in the ‘Tin Hut,’ a deserted semi-derelict house at Greenane.

Each day from January 16 to 21, the men chosen for the ambush take up their positions from early in the morning to late afternoon and then spend the night at the deserted house. Seven of the Volunteers are armed with revolvers while Treacy is armed with a small automatic rifle. On a rainy January 21, around noon, Patrick O’Dwyer sees the transport leaving the barracks. The consignment of 160 lbs. of gelignite is on a horse-drawn cart, led by two council men and guarded by two RIC officers armed with carbine rifles. O’Dwyer cycles quickly to where the ambush party is waiting and informs them. Robinson and O’Dwyer hide about 20 yards in front of the main ambush party of six, in case they rush through the main ambush position.

When the transport reaches the position where the main ambush party is hiding, masked Volunteers step out in front of them with their guns drawn and call on the RIC to surrender. The officers can see at least three of the ambushers. One officer gets down behind the cart and the other apparently fumbles with his rifle. According to the Volunteers, the officers raise their rifles to fire at them but the rifles do not fire. The Volunteers immediately fire at the officers, and it is believed that Treacy fires the first shot. Both officers, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell, native Roman Catholics, are killed. MacDonnell (50) of Belmullet, County Mayo, is a widower with five children. O’Connell is unmarried and a native of Coachford, County Cork.

As planned, Hogan, Breen and Treacy take the horse and cart with the explosives and speed off. Tadhg Crowe and Patrick O’Dwyer take the guns and ammunition from the dead officers, while Robinson, McCormack and Ryan guard the two council workers, Ned Godfrey and Patrick Flynn, before releasing them once the gelignite is far enough away. Initially the explosives are hidden in a field in Greenane. They are moved several times and are later divided up between the battalions of the brigade.

The ambush is later seen as the beginning of the Irish War of Independence. The British government declares South Tipperary a Special Military Area under the Defence of the Realm Act two days later. There is strong condemnation from the Catholic Church in Ireland. The parish priest of Tipperary calls the dead officers “martyrs to duty.”

A meeting of the Executive of the Irish Volunteers takes place shortly thereafter. On January 31, An t-Óglach, the official publication of the Irish Volunteers, states that the formation of Dáil Éireann “justifies Irish Volunteers in treating the armed forces of the enemy – whether soldiers or policemen – exactly as a National Army would treat the members of an invading army.”

In February 1919 at a Brigade meeting in Nodstown, Tipperary, Brigade officers draft a proclamation, signed by Séumas Robinson as OC, ordering all British military and police forces out of South Tipperary and, should they stay they will be held to have “forfeited their lives.” GHQ refuses to sanction the proclamation and demands it not be publicly displayed. Despite this it is still posted in several places in Tipperary.

In order to avoid capture, Breen, Treacy, Hogan and the other participants are forced to stay on the move for the following months, often hiding in the barns and attics of sympathisers.

A monument (pictured) has been erected at the site of the ambush, and each year a ceremony of remembrance is held there.


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Death of Civil War Photographer Mathew Benjamin Brady

Mathew Benjamin Brady, one of the earliest photographers in American history and best known for his scenes of the American Civil War, dies in New York City on January 15, 1896.

Brady leaves little record of his life before photography. Speaking to the press in the last years of his life, he states that he was born between 1822 and 1824 in Warren County, New York, near Lake George. He is the youngest of three children to Irish immigrant parents, Andrew and Samantha Julia Brady. In official documents before and during the war, however, he claims to have been born in Ireland.

At age 16, Brady moves to Saratoga, New York, where he meets portrait painter William Page and becomes Page’s student. In 1839, the two travel to Albany, New York, and then to New York City, where he continues to study painting with Page, and also with Page’s former teacher, Samuel F. B. Morse. Morse had met Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in France in 1839, and returned to the United States to enthusiastically push the new daguerreotype invention of capturing images. At first, Brady’s involvement was limited to manufacturing leather cases that hold daguerreotypes. But soon he becomes the center of the New York artistic colony that wishes to study photography. Morse opens a studio and offers classes. Brady is one of the first students.

In 1844, Brady opens his own photography studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street in New York, and by 1845, he begins to exhibit his portraits of famous Americans, including the likes of Senator Daniel Webster and poet Edgar Allan Poe. In 1849, he opens a studio at 625 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., where he meets Juliet Handy, whom he marries in 1850 and lives with on Staten Island. His early images are daguerreotypes, and he wins many awards for his work. In the 1850s ambrotype photography becomes popular, which gives way to the albumen print, a paper photograph produced from large glass negatives most commonly used in American Civil War photography.

In 1850, Brady produces The Gallery of Illustrious Americans, a portrait collection of prominent contemporary figures. The album, which features noteworthy images including the elderly Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage, is not financially rewarding but invites increased attention to his work and artistry. In 1854, Parisian photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri popularizes the carte de visite and these small pictures rapidly become a popular novelty, with thousands being created and sold in the United States and Europe.

At first, the effect of the American Civil War on Brady’s business is a brisk increase in sales of cartes de visite to departing soldiers. He readily markets to parents the idea of capturing their young soldiers’ images before they might be lost to war by running an ad in The New York Daily Tribune. However, he is soon taken with the idea of documenting the war itself. He first applies to an old friend, General Winfield Scott, for permission to have his photographers travel to the battle sites, and eventually, he makes his application to President Abraham Lincoln himself. Lincoln grants permission in 1861, with the proviso that Brady finance the project himself.

His efforts to document the American Civil War on a grand scale by bringing his photographic studio onto the battlefields earns Brady his place in history. His first popular photographs of the conflict are at the First Battle of Bull Run, in which he gets so close to the action that he barely avoids capture. While most of the time the battle has ceased before pictures are taken, he comes under direct fire at the First Battle of Bull Run, Petersburg, and Fredericksburg.

Brady also employs Alexander Gardner, James Gardner, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, William Pywell, George N. Barnard, Thomas C. Roche, and seventeen other men, each of whom is given a traveling darkroom, to go out and photograph scenes from the American Civil War. He generally stays in Washington, D.C., organizing his assistants and rarely visiting battlefields personally.

This may be due, at least in part, to the fact that Brady’s eyesight has begun to deteriorate in the 1850s. Many of the images in Brady’s collection are, in reality, thought to be the work of his assistants. He is criticized for failing to document the work, though it is unclear whether it is intentional or due simply to a lack of inclination to document the photographer of a specific image. Because so much of his photography is missing information, it is difficult to know not only who took the picture, but also exactly when or where it was taken.

In October 1862 Brady opens an exhibition of photographs from the Battle of Antietam in his New York gallery, titled The Dead of Antietam. Many images in this presentation are graphic photographs of corpses, a presentation new to America. This is the first time that many Americans see the realities of war in photographs, as distinct from previous “artists’ impressions.”

Brady, through his many paid assistants, takes thousands of photos of American Civil War scenes. Much of the popular understanding of the Civil War comes from these photos. There are thousands of photos in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress taken by him and his associates. The photographs include Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and soldiers in camps and battlefields. The images provide a pictorial cross reference of American Civil War history. He is not able to photograph actual battle scenes, as the photographic equipment in the day is still in the infancy of its technical development and requires that a subject be still for a clear photo to be produced.

Following the conflict, a war-weary public loses interest in seeing photos of the war, and Brady’s popularity and practice decline drastically.

During the war, Brady spends over $100,000 (equivalent to $1,691,000 in 2020) to create over 10,000 plates. He expects the U.S. government to buy the photographs when the war ends. When the government refuses to do so he is forced to sell his New York City studio and go into bankruptcy. The United States Congress grants Brady $25,000 in 1875, but he remains deeply in debt. The public was unwilling to dwell on the gruesomeness of the war after it has ended, and so private collectors are scarce.

Depressed by his financial situation and loss of eyesight, and devastated by the death of his wife in 1887, Brady dies penniless in the charity ward of Presbyterian Hospital in New York City on January 15, 1896, from complications following a streetcar accident. His funeral is financed by veterans of the 7th New York Infantry Regiment. He is buried in the Congressional Cemetery, which is located in Barney Circle, a neighborhood in the Southeast quadrant of Washington, D.C.

Brady photographs 18 of the 19 American presidents from John Quincy Adams to William McKinley. The exception is the 9th President, William Henry Harrison, who dies in office three years before Brady starts his photographic collection. He photographs Abraham Lincoln on many occasions. His Lincoln photographs have been used for the $5 bill and the Lincoln penny. One of his Lincoln photos is used by the National Bank Note Company as a model for the engraving on the 90c Lincoln Postage issue of 1869.

(Pictured: “Mathew B. Brady,” oil on canvas by Charles Loring Elliott, 1857, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)