seamus dubhghaill

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


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“Public Safety Bill” Passed by Dáil Éireann

The Free State’s Provisional Government puts the “Public Safety Bill” before Dáil Éireann on September 27, 1922, which passes by 41 votes to 18. This is emergency legislation which allows for the execution of those captured bearing arms against the State. The legislation passes to the National Army powers of punishment for anyone “taking part in or aiding and abetting attacks on the National Forces,” having possession of arms or explosives “without the proper authority” or disobeying an Army General Order.

The legislation gives the Military Courts the right to impose the sentence of death, imprisonment or penal servitude on those found to be guilty of such offences, the sentence only requiring the signatures of two officers. By time the bill is a year old, 81 men are executed under its terms and over 12,000 men and women imprisoned.

The reason for such punitive legislation is the dragging on of the Irish Civil War caused by the Anglo-Irish Treaty. A pro-Treaty offensive against the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the summer of 1922 appears to have won the war for the government but the anti-Treatyites or republicans subsequently fall back on guerrilla tactics which the newly formed Free State or National Army have great difficulty in suppressing. Ernest Blythe, the Minister for Finance in the Provisional Government, later recalls, “there was for some time a feeling that the Civil War would speedily end as major resistance was broken, but actually it began to assume a chronic character.”

In the week preceding the Dáil’s motion, on September 21, six National Army soldiers are killed in a prolonged engagement with Republican fighters near Ballina, County Mayo. On the same day, the Free State barracks in Drumshambo, County Leitrim, is attacked and taken and one soldier is killed. On September 22, a National Army soldier is killed and several soldiers and three civilians injured in a gun and grenade attack by Republicans on Free State troops on Eden Quay in central Dublin. And on the day of the Bill itself coming before the Dáil, in County Kerry several hundred anti-Treaty IRA guerrillas attack the town of Killorglin and are only repulsed after 24 hours of fighting, when Free State troops arrive from Tralee.

At the time and since, the legislation passed in 1922 is known as the Public Safety Bill. However, no such Bill or Act can be found in the records of the Irish state. The Provisional Government have no legal right under the Treaty to enact new legislation without royal assent, the King being represented in the person of the Governor-General. And in theory the Provisional Government’s powers do not apply after the Treaty formally passes into law on December 6, 1922.

So technically speaking the Public Safety Bill is not a law but simply a resolution passed in the Dáil. However, since there was, as yet no Governor-General who could give his assent and as the government felt the situation was too grave for legal niceties, the legislation setting up military courts was passed anyway. It is not until August 1923, when the Free State passes an Act of Indemnity for all actions committed during the Irish Civil War and also pass new, formal special powers legislation – The Emergency Powers Act – that retrospectively legalises what it had enacted in the autumn of 1922.

After an amnesty of two weeks, in which anti-Treaty fighters could surrender without consequences, the legislation comes into force in mid October. Republicans at first do not believe that the government is serious about enforcing what its foes term “the Murder Bill.” It is in practice nearly two months before it is used in earnest.

On November 17, 1922, four IRA men who had been captured in Dublin are shot by firing squad. By the end of the week, Erskine Childers, who had served as secretary to the delegation which signed the Treaty but later organized Republican propaganda against it, is also dead. He had been captured at his home in County Wicklow on November 11 in possession of a small pistol Michael Collins had given him before he departed for Treaty negotiations in London. He is sentenced and shot on November 24. On November 30 another three Republican prisoners are executed in Dublin.

Liam Lynch, IRA Chief of Staff, issues a general order that Teachtaí Dála (TDs) who had voted for the Bill be shot on sight. On December 6, in retaliation for the executions, IRA members assassinate the TD Sean Hales in Dublin. In reprisal for that four senior republicans, Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, who had been captured long before the Public Safety legislation is passed are summarily shot.

The legislation passed on September 27, 1922 may well have helped, as its supporters claimed, to break anti-Treaty resistance and to bring the Irish Civil War to an end. However it also helped to convert the conflict into a feud as bitter and as personal as a vendetta.

(From: “The passing of legislation allowing for executions during the Irish Civil War” by John Dorney, The Irish Story (www.theirishstory.com), September 27, 2013 | Photo: Richard Mulcahy, shown inspecting soldiers in Dublin, argued that permitting official executions would prevent National Army troops from carrying out unofficial killings)


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Death of John Blake Dillon, Founding Member of Young Ireland

John Blake Dillon, Irish writer and politician who is one of the founding members of the Young Ireland movement, dies in Killiney, County Dublin on September 15, 1866.

Dillon is born on May 5, 1814 in the town of Ballaghaderreen, on the border of counties Mayo and Roscommon. He is a son of Anne Blake and her husband Luke Dillon (d. 1826), who had been a land agent for his cousin Patrick Dillon, 11th Earl of Roscommon. His niece is Anne Deane, who helps to raise his family after his death.

Dillon is educated at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, leaving after only two years there, having decided that he is not meant for the priesthood. He later studies law at Trinity College, Dublin, and in London, before being called to the Irish Bar. It is during his time at Trinity College that he first meets and befriends Thomas Davis.

While working for The Morning Register newspaper Dillon meets Charles Gavan Duffy, with whom he and Davis found The Nation in 1842, which is dedicated to promoting Irish nationalism and all three men become important members of Daniel O’Connell‘s Repeal Association, which advocates the repeal of the Act of Union 1800 between Great Britain and Ireland.

The young wing of the party, of which they are key members with William Smith O’Brien and Thomas Francis Meagher, come to be known as Young Ireland and advocate the threat of force to achieve repeal of the Act of Union. This is in contrast to the committed pacifism of O’Connell’s “Old Ireland” wing. This posturing eventually leads to the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848 where a countryside devastated by the Great Famine fails to rise up and support the rebels.

According to fellow Irish nationalist, Justin McCarthy, “…it has been said of him that while he strongly discouraged the idea of armed rebellion, and had no faith in the possibility of Ireland’s succeeding by any movement of insurrection, yet when Smith O’Brien risked Ireland’s chances in the open field, he cast his lot with his leader and stood by his side in Tipperary.”

After the failure of Young Ireland’s uprising, Dillon flees Ireland, escaping first to France and, eventually, to the United States, where he serves the New York Bar.

Dillon returns to Ireland on amnesty in 1855 and in 1865 is elected as a Member of Parliament for Tipperary. By now he advocates a Federal union of Britain and Ireland and denounces the violent methods advocated by the Irish Republican Brotherhood or Fenian movement.

Dillon dies of cholera on September 15, 1866 in Killiney, County Dublin, at the age of 52, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

Dillon is the father of John Dillon and grandfather of James Dillon.


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Birth of James Hope, United Irishmen Leader

james-hopeJames “Jemmy” Hope, Society of United Irishmen leader who fights in the Irish Rebellions of 1798 and 1803 against British rule in Ireland, is born in Templepatrick, County Antrim on August 25, 1764.

Hope is born 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.

James Hope dies in 1846 and is buried in the Mallusk cemetery, Newtownabbey. His gravestone 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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British Release of Fenian Prisoners

cuba-fiveThe British, in a general amnesty, release 33 Fenian prisoners on January 5, 1871. Most of these prisoners are men who have either been swept up by the British in 1865, when they suppressed the Fenian newspaper The Irish People for taking part in the Fenian Rising of March 1867, or had been rounded up after the “Smashing of the Van” rescue of Thomas J. Kelly and Timothy Deasy in September 1867.

The British penal system of the period is brutal under normal circumstances, and the Fenians receive much harsher treatment than that received by the normal inmates. Those Fenians still on the outside agitate constantly for the release of their comrades. The man most responsible for the release of 1871 is John “Amnesty” Nolan, who thus earns his sobriquet.

The names of many of the men released by William Ewart Gladstone’s government are well known to those who have studied the Irish Republican movement. One of them is Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, as steadfast an enemy of English rule in Ireland as any who has ever lived. After Rossa’s death in the United States, his body is returned to Ireland for burial, and his funeral in 1915 includes the famous eulogy by Patrick Pearse, one of the seminal moments in the renewal of armed struggle for Irish freedom. Another Fenian released that day is John Devoy, who perhaps more than any other man keeps the struggle for Irish freedom alive among Irish exiles in America.

The British government releases the Fenians on condition that they exile themselves to the country of their choice and not return until their sentences have expired. Many chose to go to Australia, but Rossa, Devoy, John McClure, Henry Mulleda, and Charles Underwood O’Connell, who have all been imprisoned together, chose to go to the United States and ship together from Liverpool on board the Cuba. The so-called Cuba Five arrive in New York City to a hero’s welcome from the city’s large Irish community and even receive a resolution of welcome from the United States House of Representatives.

(Pictured: “The Cuba Five” – John Devoy, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Charles Underwood O’Connell, Henry Mulleda and John McClure)


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Death of Hunger Striker Thomas Patrick Ashe

Thomas Patrick Ashe, a member of the Gaelic League, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and a founding member of the Irish Volunteers, dies on September 25, 1917 at Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Dublin following a hunger strike.

Ashe is born in Lispole, County Kerry, on January 12, 1885. He enters De La Salle Training College, Waterford in 1905 and begins a teaching career as principal of Corduff National School, Lusk, County Dublin, in 1908.

Ashe plays a major part in the 1916 Easter Rising outside the capital city commanding the Fingal battalion of the Irish Volunteers. He is commandant of the 5th battalion of the Dublin brigade, a force of 60–70 men engaging British forces around north County Dublin during the rising. They are armed only with a few rounds, about a dozen service rifles, a dozen Mausers, and a dozen Martini carbines. Some of Ashe’s men are armed only with a shotgun against the well-equipped army regulars.

Ashe’s battalion wins a major victory in Ashbourne, County Meath, where they engage a much larger force. They capture a significant quantity of arms and up to twenty Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) vehicles. Eleven RIC members, including County Inspector Alexander Gray, and two volunteers are killed during the 5-1/2 hour battle. Twenty-four hours after the rising collapses, Ashe’s battalion surrenders on the orders of Patrick Pearse. On May 8, 1916, Ashe and Éamon de Valera are court-martialled and sentenced to death. The sentences are commuted to penal servitude for life. Ashe is imprisoned in Frongoch internment camp and Lewes Prison in Lewes, East Sussex, England.

De Valera, Ashe, and Thomas Hunter lead a prisoner hunger strike on May 28, 1917. With accounts of prison mistreatment appearing in the Irish press and mounting protests in Ireland, Ashe and the remaining prisoners are freed on June 18, 1917 by David Lloyd George as part of a general amnesty.

Upon his release, Ashe returns to Ireland and begins a series of speaking engagements. In August 1917, he is arrested and charged with sedition for a speech that he makes in Ballinalee, County Longford, where Michael Collins is also speaking. He is detained at the Curragh but is then transferred to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin. He is convicted and sentenced to two years hard labour. Ashe and other prisoners, including Fionán Lynch and Austin Stack, demand prisoner of war status.

On September 20, 1917, Ashe again goes on hunger strike. He dies at Mater Misericordiae Hospital on September 25, 1917, after being force fed by prison authorities. At the inquest into his death, the jury condemns the staff at the prison for the “inhuman and dangerous operation performed on the prisoner, and other acts of unfeeling and barbaric conduct.” His body lies in state at Dublin City Hall, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

The Ashe Memorial Hall built in 1928, housing the Kerry County Museum, in Tralee is named after him while Nelson Street, also in Tralee, is renamed Ashe Street. Ashe is a relative of Catherine Ashe, the paternal grandmother of American actor Gregory Peck, who emigrates to the United States in the 19th century.


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Irish Free State Suspends Executions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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