seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Sallins Train Robbery

The Sallins Train robbery occurs on March 31, 1976 when the Cork to Dublin mail train is robbed near Sallins in County Kildare. Approximately £200,000 is stolen. Five members of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, Osgur Breatnach, Nicky Kelly, Brian McNally, Mick Plunkett, and John Fitzpatrick, are arrested in connection with the robbery.

After the failure of the authorities to produce a “book of evidence” against them, the four are released but are immediately re-arrested. During interrogation in Garda Síochána custody, all except Plunkett sign alleged confessions, presenting with extensive bruising and injuries they claim are inflicted by members of the Gardaí.

While awaiting trial, Fitzpatrick jumps bail and leaves the country. The trial of McNally, Kelly, and Breatnach in the Special Criminal Court becomes the longest-running trial in Irish criminal history, at 65 days, before it collapses due to the death of one of the three judges, Judge John O’Connor of the Circuit Court.

Medical evidence of beatings is presented to the court, both during the initial trial and the second trial. The court rejects this evidence, finding that the beatings have been self-inflicted or inflicted by the co-accused. Anticipating a conviction, Kelly flees before the conclusion of the second trial. The three are found guilty, solely on the basis of their confessions, and sentenced to between nine and twelve years in prison. Kelly is sentenced in absentia.

In May 1980, Breatnach and McNally are acquitted on appeal on the grounds that their statements had been taken under duress. The same month, the Provisional Irish Republican Army claims responsibility for the robbery. Kelly returns to Ireland from the United States in June 1980, expecting to be acquitted. Instead he is incarcerated in the maximum-security Portlaoise Prison and spends the next four years proclaiming his innocence, including a 38-day period on hunger strike.

After a campaign by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, and others and a song, Wicklow Boy, by the popular folk singer Christy Moore, Kelly is eventually released on “humanitarian grounds” in 1984. He is given a presidential pardon in 1992 and receives £1,000,000 in compensation. Breatnach and McNally are also given compensation.

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Birth of Irish Revolutionary Maud Gonne

maud-gonneMaud Gonne, Irish revolutionary, romantic muse for William Butler Yeats, and mother to Nobel Peace Prize-winner Seán MacBride, is born at Tongham, England on December 21, 1866.

Gonne is born into a distinguished and wealthy family, and her father serves as an army captain. Her mother dies of tuberculosis when she is a child, and she and her sister are raised and educated by a French nanny. This cosmopolitan upbringing is furthered by travels throughout Europe with her father, then a military attaché.

In 1884, Gonne’s father dies of typhoid fever and she receives a considerable inheritance. After moving to France to be with her aunt, she meets and falls in love with right wing politician Lucien Millevoye. Though he is already married, he instills Gonne with his political passions. She begins a nearly lifelong fight for Irish freedom from England and the release of political prisoners. She and Millevoye have two children, one of whom survives, before their relationship ends.

Moved by the plight of those evicted in the Land Wars, Gonne continues to campaign for the Irish nationalist cause. While living in Paris, she is introduced to Fenianism by John O’Leary, a veteran of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. In 1889, O’Leary introduces her to a man whose infatuation with her would last most of his life, poet William Butler Yeats. She begins a relationship with Yeats, though she refuses his many marriage proposals. She is the inspiration for many of Yeats’s poems. In 1900, she founds the Daughters of Ireland, which provides a home for Irish nationalist women.

In 1918, Gonne is arrested for being a political agitator. She becomes severely ill in prison and after her release, she begins a crusade for improved conditions for Ireland’s political prisoners. In 1903, she marries Major John MacBride, who had led the Irish Transvaal Brigade against the British in the Second Boer War, in Paris in 1903. After the birth of their son, Seán, Gonne and her husband agree to end their marriage. She demands sole custody of their son but MacBride refuses, and a divorce case begins in Paris on February 28, 1905. The only charge against MacBride substantiated in court is that he was drunk on one occasion during the marriage. A divorce is not granted, and MacBride is given the right to visit his son twice weekly.

The couple’s son, Seán MacBride, is active in politics in Ireland and in the United Nations. He is a founding member and Chairman of Amnesty International and is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974.

Gonne dies in Clonskeagh on April 27, 1953, at the age of 86 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. Maud Gonne’s autobiography, A Servant of the Queen, is published in 1938.


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Birth of Singer & Political Activist Bob Geldof

Robert Frederick Zenon “Bob” Geldof, singer, songwriter, author, occasional actor, and political activist, is born in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, on October 5, 1951.

Geldof attends Blackrock College, though he later says he did not enjoy his time there because of its Catholic ethos and bullying for his lack of rugby prowess and for his middle name, Zenon. After leaving school he gains certain odd jobs but is not inspired by any of them. He then goes to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to work as a music journalist.

Returning to Ireland in 1975, Bob Geldof becomes the lead singer of The Boomtown Rats, a rock group closely linked with the punk movement. He famously states the reason for joining a pop band is “to get rich, to get famous, and to get laid.”

By 1978, The Boomtown Rats achieve their first U.K. hit single with Rat Trap and later achieve a second hit with I Don’t Like Mondays.

In 1981, Geldof is invited to take part in a concert for Amnesty International and this sows a seed of future ideas.

In 1984, Geldof moves from being a rock start to international celebrity for raising awareness of humanitarian charities. During that year, Ethiopia and other African countries experience a severe famine which leads to death by starvation for thousands of people. The plight of starving children is widely seen on television and Geldof, along with Midge Ure, decide to do something about it, releasing the single Do They Know It’s Christmas?. It is a spontaneous event with many of the best known names in pop music invited. It becomes an instant best seller selling a record 3 million copies.

In the summer of 1985, Geldof is one of the main organisers behind the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium. It is a sixteen hour rock extravaganza aimed at raising money and awareness for Africa. It is a unique musical event capturing the imagination and attention of the world. Following this concert he becomes more involved in work for non-governmental organisations in Africa and becomes one of the leading spokespersons on Third World debt and relief.

In 2005, he organises a Live 8 concert, coinciding with the Make Poverty History campaign. He seeks the co-operation of leading G8 leaders such as Tony Blair to write off Third World debt. Some criticise him for becoming too close to politicians and some argue his presence in the Third World campaign issue does more harm than good.

However, Geldof remains a powerful figurehead for motivating Western attitudes to pay more attention to the problems and challenges of the poorest parts of the world. He feels a passion for improving conditions in Africa.

Geldof is knighted in 1986 and is often affectionately known as “Sir Bob.”


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Birth of Mary Robinson, 1st Female President of Ireland

mary-robinsonMary Therese Winifred Robinson, seventh and first female President of Ireland (1990-1997), is born on May 21, 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo. Robinson also serves as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 until 2002.

Robinson first rises to prominence as an academic, barrister, campaigner, and member of the Irish Senate (1969–1989). Running as an Independent candidate nominated by the Labour Party, the Workers’ Party, and independent senators, Robinson defeats Fianna Fáil‘s Brian Lenihan and Fine Gael‘s Austin Currie in the 1990 presidential election becoming the first elected president in the office’s history not to have had the support of Fianna Fáil.

Robinson is widely regarded as a transformative figure for Ireland, and for the Irish presidency, revitalising and liberalising a previously conservative, low-profile political office. She resigns the presidency two months before the end of her term in office in order to take up her post in the United Nations. During her UN tenure, she visits Tibet in 1998, the first High Commissioner to do so. She criticises Ireland’s immigrant policy and criticises the use of capital punishment in the United States. She extends her intended single four-year term by a year to preside over the World Conference against Racism 2001 in Durban, South Africa. The conference proves controversial, and under continuing pressure from the United States, Robinson resigns her post in September 2002.

After leaving the UN in 2002, Robinson forms Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative, which comes to a planned end at the end of 2010. Its core activities are fostering equitable trade and decent work, promoting the right to health and more humane migration policies, and working to strengthen women’s leadership and encourage corporate social responsibility. The organisation also supports capacity building and good governance in developing countries. Robinson returns to live in Ireland at the end of 2010, and sets up The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, which aims to be “a centre for thought leadership, education, and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those many victims of climate change who are usually forgotten – the poor, the disempowered, and the marginalised across the world.”

Robinson is Chair of the Institute for Human Rights and Business and Chancellor of the University of Dublin. Since 2004, she has also been Professor of Practice in International Affairs at Columbia University, where she teaches international human rights. Robinson also visits other colleges and universities where she lectures on human rights. Robinson sits on the Board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an organisation which supports good governance and great leadership in Africa, and is a member of the Foundation’s Ibrahim Prize Committee. Robinson is an Extraordinary Professor in the Centre for Human Rights and the Centre for the Study of AIDS at the University of Pretoria. Robinson serves as Oxfam’s honorary president from 2002 until she steps down in 2012 and is the honorary president of the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation EIUC since 2005. She is Chair of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and is also a founding member and Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders (2003-2009). Robinson was a member of the European members of the Trilateral Commission.

In 2004, she receives Amnesty International‘s Ambassador of Conscience Award for her work in promoting human rights.

In July 2009, Robinson is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour awarded by the United States. In presenting the award to Robinson, U.S. President Barack Obama says, “Mary Robinson learned early on what it takes to make sure all voices are heard. As a crusader for women and those without a voice in Ireland, Mary Robinson was the first woman elected President of Ireland, before being appointed U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. When she traveled abroad as President, she would place a light in her window that would draw people of Irish descent to pass by below. Today, as an advocate for the hungry and the hunted, the forgotten and the ignored, Mary Robinson has not only shone a light on human suffering, but illuminated a better future for our world.”


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Birth of Former IRA Chief of Staff Seán McBride

sean-macbrideSeán McBride, Irish government minister, prominent international politician, and a former Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Paris on January 26, 1904. He is the son of Major John MacBride and Maud Gonne.

After his father’s execution for his participation in the Easter Rising of 1916, Seán is sent to school at Mount St. Benedict’s, Gorey, County Wexford in Ireland. In 1919, at the age of 15, he joins the Irish Volunteers, which fights as part of the Irish Republican Army, and takes part in the Irish War of Independence. He is imprisoned by the Irish Free State but is released in 1924 and resumes his IRA activities. He returns to Dublin in 1927 and becomes the Director of Intelligence of the IRA.

Toward the end of the 1920s, after many supporters have left the IRA to join Fianna Fáil, some members start pushing for a more left-wing agenda. After the IRA Army Council votes down the idea, MacBride launches a new movement, Saor Éire (“Free Ireland”), in 1931. Although it is a non-military organisation, Saor Éire is declared unlawful along with the IRA, Cumann na mBan, and nine other organizations.

In 1936, MacBride becomes Chief of Staff of the IRA after Moss Twomey is sent to prison for three years. At the time, the movement is in a state of disarray, with conflicts between several factions and personalities. In 1937, MacBride is called to the bar and then resigns from the IRA when the Constitution of Ireland is enacted later that year. As a barrister, MacBride frequently defends IRA political prisoners, but is not unsuccessful in stopping the execution of Charlie Kerins in 1944 who is convicted of killing Garda Detective Dennis O’Brien in 1942. In 1946, during the inquest into the death of Seán McCaughey, MacBride embarrasses the authorities by forcing them to admit that the conditions in Portlaoise Prison are inhumane.

In 1946, MacBride founds the republican/socialist party Clann na Poblachta, hoping it would replace Fianna Fáil as Ireland’s major political party. In October 1947, he wins a seat in Dáil Éireann at a by-election in the Dublin County constituency. However, at the 1948 general election Clann na Poblachta wins only ten seats.

MacBride is serving as Minister of External Affairs when the Council of Europe drafts the European Convention on Human Rights. He serves as President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from 1949 to 1950 and is credited with being a key force in securing the acceptance of this convention, which is finally signed in Rome on November 4, 1950. He is instrumental in the implementation of the Repeal of the External Relations Act and the Declaration of the Republic of Ireland in 1949.

In 1951, Clann na Poblachta is reduced to only two seats after the general election. MacBride keeps his seat and is re-elected again in 1954. Opposing the internment of IRA suspects during the Border Campaign (1956–62), he contests both the 1957 and 1961 general elections but fails to be elected both times. He then retires from politics but continues practicing as a barrister. He expresses interest in running as an independent candidate in the 1983 Irish presidential election, but does not receive sufficient backing and ultimately does not enter the contest.

Throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, MacBride works tirelessly for human rights worldwide. He is a founding member of Amnesty International and serves as its International chairman from 1961 until 1975. During the 1980s, he initiates the Appeal by Lawyers against Nuclear War which is jointly sponsored by the International Peace Bureau and the International Progress Organization.

MacBride is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974 as a man who “mobilised the conscience of the world in the fight against injustice.” He later receives the Lenin Peace Prize (1975–76) and the UNESCO Silver Medal for Service (1980).

Seán MacBride dies in Dublin on January 15, 1988, just eleven days shy of his 84th birthday. He is buried in a simple grave in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.