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


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Birth of Kitty Kiernan, Fiancée of Michael Collins

Catherine Brigid “Kitty” Kiernan, Irish woman widely known as the fiancée of Irish revolutionary leader and Chairman of the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State, Michael Collins, is born on January 26, 1892, in Granard, County Longford.

Kiernan is born to Peter Kiernan and Bridget (née Dawson). She is educated at Loreto Convent, County Wicklow. Hers is a very comfortably-off merchant family with five sisters and one brother. Her parents enjoy a happy marriage, and life in the Kiernan home is joyous until Kitty reaches her teens. On November 27, 1907, her sister, Elizabeth Mary (a twin), dies at the age of eighteen of pulmonary tuberculosis, while Elizabeth’s twin sister, Rose, apparently dies the same year in Davos, Switzerland, which would also indicate tuberculosis as a cause of death. Her mother dies on November 29, 1908 of apoplexy, while her father dies almost exactly a year later, on November 9, 1909, of pneumonia. The Kiernan family owns the Greville Arms Hotel in the town, as well as a grocery shop, a hardware store, a timber and undertaking business and also a bar. Around the corner from the hotel they operate a bakery which supplies the town and most of the surrounding countryside. All the family works in one capacity or another.

Michael Collins, one of the principal founders of the independent Irish state, is introduced to the vivacious Kiernan sisters by his cousin Gearóid O’Sullivan, who is already dating Maud Kiernan. Collins initially falls for the captivating Helen Kiernan, but she is already engaged to someone else. He then turns his interests to Kitty, who has already captured the interest of Collins’ friend Harry Boland. However, it is Collins to whom Kitty becomes engaged, with plans to marry Collins in a November 1922 double ceremony to include the nuptials of Maud and Gearóid. Collins’ assassination four months earlier, on August 22, 1922, near Béal na Bláth, County Cork, results in a single wedding taking place.

On June 10, 1925, Kiernan marries Felix Cronin, who is Quartermaster General in the Irish Army. They have two sons, Felix Jnr. and Michael Collins Cronin. Felix Jnr. and his son Rex are interred with his parents in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Kiernan dies, aged 52, of a cerebral hemorrhage on July 24, 1945, and her grave is close to that of Collins. Felix Cronin dies suddenly on October 22, 1961, while playing golf at Woodbrook Golf Club and is also buried in Glasnevin.

Kiernan and Michael Collins keep up a lengthy correspondence and while Collins is in London during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations, he writes to her every day. The bulk of these letters are written between 1919 and 1922, and through their almost daily contact emerges a picture of the dreams and aspirations of the man often called Ireland’s “lost leader” and the woman with whom he wanted to share a “normal” life. These letters are the subject of a book written by Leon Ó Broin entitled In Great Haste. In 2000, some of the 300 letters sent by Kiernan and Collins to each other go on permanent display at the Cork Public Museum. These letters give a great insight into her attitude to life and into the political events of this time.

Former Fine Gael minister Peter Barry donates his collection of historic letters to the Lord Mayor of Cork, on behalf of the municipal museum. The collection, purchased from the Cronin family in 1995, is conserved at the Delmas bindery at Marsh’s Library in Dublin. The letters are also catalogued and then returned to the Cork Public Museum. The Peter Barry collection also contains letters from Harry Boland, a friend of Collins and former suitor of Kiernan.

In the 1996 film Michael Collins, Kiernan is played by American actress Julia Roberts though some reviewers are critical of the character’s development.

A number of Irish pubs are named in memory of Kiernan, such as one in Donnycarney, Dublin, one in Waterford, and one in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn in New York. A similar pub in Linz, Austria is closed in 2009.


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Birth of Charlie Kerins, Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army

Charlie Kerins, a physical force Irish Republican and Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Caherina, Tralee, County Kerry, on January 23, 1918. He is one of six IRA men who are executed by the Irish State between September 1940 and December 1944.

Kerins attends Balloonagh Mercy Convent School and then the CBS, Edward Street. At the age of 13, he wins a Kerry County Council scholarship and completes his secondary education at the Green Christian Brothers and the Jeffers Institute. In 1930, he passes the Intermediate Certificate with honours and the matriculation examination to the National University of Ireland (NUI). He later does a commercial course and takes up employment in a radio business in Tralee.

In 1940, Kerins is sworn into the IRA and is appointed to the GHQ staff in May 1942. At the time, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera is determined to preserve Irish neutrality during World War II. Therefore, the IRA’s bombing campaign in England, its attacks against targets in Northern Ireland, and its ties to the intelligence services of Nazi Germany are regarded as severe threats to Ireland’s national security. IRA men who are captured by the Gardaí are interned for the duration of the war by the Irish Army in the Curragh Camp in County Kildare.

On the morning of September 9, 1942, Garda Detective Sergeant Denis O’Brien is leaving his home in Ballyboden, Dublin. He is between his front gate and his car when he is cut down with Thompson submachine guns. O’Brien, an Anti-Treaty veteran of the Irish Civil War, had enlisted in the Garda Síochána in 1933. He is one of the most effective Detectives of the Special Branch division, which has its headquarters at Dublin Castle. The shooting greatly increases public feeling against the IRA, particularly as the murder is carried out in full view of his wife.

Following the arrest of Hugh McAteer in October 1942, Kerins is named Chief of Staff of the IRA. Despite a massive manhunt by Gardaí, he remains at large for two years. He stays at a County Waterford home for two weeks while he is on the run, having given his name as Pat Carney. He is captured several months after he leaves the home.

Kerins had previously left papers and guns hidden at Kathleen Farrell’s house in the Dublin suburb of Rathmines. He telephones the house, as he intends to retrieve them. However, Farrell’s telephone had been tapped by the Gardaí. On June 15, 1944, he is arrested in an early morning raid. He is sleeping when the Gardaí enter his bedroom and does not have an opportunity to reach the Thompson submachine gun which is hidden under his bed.

At a trial before the Special Criminal Court in Collins Barracks, Dublin, Kerins is formally charged on October 2, 1944, for the “shooting at Rathfarnham of Detective Dinny O’Brien.” At the end of his trial, the president of the Military Court delays sentence until later in the day to allow Kerins, if he wishes, to make an application whereby he might avoid a capital sentence. When the court resumes, he says, “You could have adjourned it for six years as far as I am concerned, as my attitude towards this Court will always be the same.” He thus deprives himself of the right to give evidence, to face cross-examination, or to call witnesses.

Despite legal moves initiated by Seán MacBride, public protests, and parliamentary intervention by TDs from Clann na Talmhan, Labour, and Independent Oliver J. Flanagan in Leinster House, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera refuses to issue a reprieve. On December 1, 1944, in Mountjoy Prison, Kerins is hanged by British chief executioner Albert Pierrepoint, who is employed by the Irish Government for such occasions.

Kerins is the last IRA member to be executed in the Republic of Ireland. He is buried in the prison yard. In September 1948, his remains are exhumed and released to his family. He is buried in the Republican plot at Rath Cemetery, Tralee, County Kerry.


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Death of Florence O’Donoghue, Historian & Member of the Irish Republican Army

Florence O’Donoghue, historian and head of intelligence of the Cork No. 1 Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence, dies on December 18, 1967, in Mercy University Hospital, Cork, County Cork.

O’Donoghue is born in Rathmore, County Kerry, on July 22, 1894, the son of farmer Patrick O’Donoghue and Margaret Cronin. He moves to Cork in 1910, where he works as an apprentice in the drapery trade.

The 1916 Easter Rising is a watershed in O’Donoghue’s life. In December 1916, he joins the Cork branch of the Irish Volunteers. In early 1917, he is elected unanimously First Lieutenant of the Cyclist Company and as a result devotes all his spare time to Volunteer work. He begins writing weekly for two years for The Irish World newspaper. By May 1917, he is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and in October, Tomás Mac Curtain appoints him head of communications of the Cork Brigade. He replaces Pat Higgins as Brigade Adjutant in February 1917. He is a key organiser in the sensational jailbreak of Captain Donnchadh Mac Niallghuis on Armistice Day 1918 and takes personal responsibility for his protection. Michael Collins is the last officer from Volunteers General Headquarters to visit Cork shortly after Christmas 1919, until the truce in 1921.

O’Donoghue builds up an intelligence network and agents which includes his future wife, Josephine Marchment. She is head female clerk at the 6th Division Headquarters at Victoria Barracks, Cork, and passes on secret British Army correspondence to him. He recruits people to open letters, tap phone lines and intercept telegrams. The Irish Republican Army has 2,000 active members in Cork which are also used for intelligence gathering. By March 1920, after killing a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Inspector, he is on the run and serving full-time in the IRA. In November of that year, the Cork Brigade kills six British Army officers and executes five Cork civilians on suspicion of spying.

After two and a half years of fighting, a truce is agreed upon on July 11, 1921. When the Dáil approves the Anglo-Irish Treaty, in January 1922, the IRA splits into pro- and anti-Treaty camps. Over the coming months and after being elected onto the army’s executive as Adjutant General, O’Donoghue warns of the dangers of an Irish Civil War. In June 1922, he resigns from the army’s national executive and a month later, on July 3, 1922, from the army. Civil war does break out on June 28, 1922 between pro- and anti-Treaty factions, much to his dismay.

During the Irish Civil War, O’Donoghue remains neutral and tries to organise a truce to end the fighting. In December 1922, he forms a group called the “Neutral IRA”, along with Seán O’Hegarty, composed of pro-truce IRA men. He claims he has 20,000 members in this group. He campaigns for a month’s truce between the two sides, so that a political compromise could be reached. However, his efforts come to nothing and in March 1923, he winds up the “Neutral IRA,” judging that its objectives cannot be achieved. The Irish Civil War ends on May 24, 1923.

O’Donoghue serves as major in the Irish Army from 1939-1946. He forms a Supplementary Intelligence Service that is to remain behind enemy lines in the event of an invasion. He also teaches guerrilla warfare tactics to new army recruits.

O’Donoghue marries Josephine Brown (née Marchment) in April 1921 and they have four children. The couple also adopts two children from Josephine’s first marriage, including Reggie Brown, whom O’Donoghue kidnaps from his grandparents in Wales in 1920. He becomes a rate collector and remains outside politics.

In later years O’Donoghue becomes a respected historian. While in the army he edits An Cosantóir, the Irish Army’s magazine. He convinces Éamon de Valera to establish the Bureau of Military History to record personal accounts from the Irish War of Independence. He is a recording officer until 1948. His most famous work is his biography on Liam Lynch, entitled No Other Law.

O’Donoghue dies on December 18, 1967, and Tom Barry gives the graveside oration. His papers are in the National Library of Ireland (NLI) and his statement to the Bureau of Military History is in the Military Archives.


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Death of Richard Mulcahy, Fine Gael Politician & Army General

Richard James Mulcahy, Irish Fine Gael politician and army general, dies from natural causes in Dublin on December 16, 1971.

Mulcahy is born in Manor Street, Waterford, County Waterford, on May 10, 1886, the son of post office clerk Patrick Mulcahy and Elizabeth Slattery. He is educated at Mount Sion Christian Brothers School and later in Thurles, County Tipperary, where his father is the postmaster.

Mulcahy joins the Royal Mail (Post Office Engineering Dept.) in 1902, and works in Thurles, Bantry, Wexford and Dublin. He is a member of the Gaelic League and joins the Irish Volunteers at the time of their formation in 1913. He is also a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Mulcahy is second-in-command to Thomas Ashe in an encounter with the armed Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) at Ashbourne, County Meath, during the 1916 Easter Rising, one of the few stand-out victories won by republicans in that week, and generally credited to Mulcahy’s grasp of tactics. In his book on the Rising, Charles Townshend principally credits Mulcahy with the defeat of the RIC at Ashbourne, for conceiving and leading a flanking movement on the RIC column that had engaged with the Irish Volunteers. Arrested after the Rising, he is interned at Knutsford and at the Frongoch internment camp in Wales until his release on December 24, 1916.

On his release, Mulcahy immediately rejoins the republican movement and becomes commandant of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers. He is elected to the First Dáil in the 1918 Irish general election for Dublin Clontarf. He is then named Minister for Defence in the new government and later Assistant Minister for Defence. In March 1918, he becomes Irish Republican Army (IRA) chief of staff, a position he holds until January 1922.

Mulcahy and Michael Collins are largely responsible for directing the military campaign against the British during the Irish War of Independence. During this period of upheaval in 1919, he marries Mary Josephine (Min) Ryan, sister of Kate and Phyllis Ryan, the successive wives of Seán T. O’Kelly. Her brother is James Ryan. O’Kelly and Ryan both later serve in Fianna Fáil governments.

Mulcahy supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921. Archive film shows that Mulcahy, as Minister of Defence, is the Irish officer who raises the Irish tricolour at the first hand-over of a British barracks to the National Army in January 1922. He is defence minister in the Provisional Government on its creation and succeeds Collins, after the latter’s assassination, as Commander-in-Chief of the Provisional Government’s forces during the subsequent Irish Civil War.

Mulcahy earns notoriety through his order that anti-Treaty activists captured carrying arms are liable for execution. A total of 77 anti-Treaty prisoners are executed by the Provisional Government. He serves as Minister for Defence in the new Free State government from January 1924 until March 1924, but resigns in protest because of the sacking of the Army Council after criticism by the Executive Council over the handling of the “Army Mutiny,” when some National Army War of Independence officers almost revolt after he demobilises many of them at the end of the Irish Civil War. He re-enters the cabinet as Minister for Local Government and Public Health in 1927.

During Mulcahy’s period on the backbenches of Dáil Éireann his electoral record fluctuates. He is elected as TD for Dublin North-West at the 1921 and 1922 Irish general elections. He moves to Dublin City North for the election the following year, and is re-elected there in four further elections: June 1927, September 1927, 1932 and 1933.

Dublin City North is abolished for the 1937 Irish general election, at which Mulcahy is defeated in the new constituency of Dublin North-East. However, he secures election to Seanad Éireann as a Senator, the upper house of the Oireachtas, representing the Administrative Panel. The 2nd Seanad sat for less than two months, and at the 1938 Irish general election he was elected to the 10th Dáil as a TD for Dublin North-East. Defeated again in the 1943 Irish general election, he secured election to the 4th Seanad by the Labour Panel.

After the resignation of W. T. Cosgrave as Leader of Fine Gael in 1944, Mulcahy becomes party leader while still a member of the Seanad. Thomas F. O’Higgins is parliamentary leader of the party in the Dáil at the time and Leader of the Opposition. Facing his first general election as party leader, Mulcahy draws up a list of 13 young candidates to contest seats for Fine Gael. Of the eight who run, four are elected. He is returned again to the 12th Dáil as a TD for Tipperary at the 1944 Irish general election. While Fine Gael’s decline had been slowed, its future is still in doubt.

Following the 1948 Irish general election Mulcahy is elected for Tipperary South, but the dominant Fianna Fáil party finishes six seats short of a majority. However, it is 37 seats ahead of Fine Gael, and conventional wisdom suggests that Fianna Fáil is the only party that can possibly form a government. Just as negotiations get underway, however, Mulcahy realises that if Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the National Labour Party, Clann na Poblachta and Clann na Talmhan band together, they would have only one seat fewer than Fianna Fáil and, if they can get support from seven independents, they will be able to form a government. He plays a leading role in persuading the other parties to put aside their differences and join forces to consign the then Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Éamon de Valera, to the opposition benches.

Mulcahy initially seems set to become Taoiseach in a coalition government. However, he is not acceptable to Clann na Poblachta’s leader, Seán MacBride. Many Irish republicans had never forgiven him for his role in the Irish Civil War executions carried out under the Cosgrave government in the 1920s. Consequently, MacBride lets it be known that he and his party will not serve under Mulcahy. Without Clann na Poblachta, the other parties would have 57 seats between them — 17 seats short of a majority in the 147-seat Dáil. According to Mulcahy, the suggestion that another person serve as Taoiseach comes from Labour leader William Norton. He steps aside and encourages his party colleague John A. Costello, a former Attorney General of Ireland, to become the parliamentary leader of Fine Gael and the coalition’s candidate for Taoiseach. For the next decade, Costello serves as the party’s parliamentary leader while Mulcahy remained the nominal leader of the party.

Mulcahy goes on to serve as Minister for Education under Costello from 1948 until 1951. Another coalition government comes to power at the 1954 Irish general election, with Mulcahy once again stepping aside to become Minister for Education in the Second Inter-Party Government. The government falls in 1957, but he remains as Fine Gael leader until October 1959. In October the following year, he tells his Tipperary constituents that he does not intend to contest the next election.

Mulcahy dies from natural causes at the age of 85 in Dublin on December 16, 1971. He is buried in Littleton, County Tipperary.


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Birth of Austin Stack, Irish Republican & Politician

Augustine Mary Moore Stack, Irish republican and politician who serves as Minister for Home Affairs from 1921 to 1922, is born on December 7, 1879, in Ballymullen, Tralee, County Kerry. He is a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1918 to 1927.

Stack is born to William Stack, an attorney’s clerk, and Nanette O’Neill. He is educated at the Christian Brothers School in Tralee. At the age of fourteen, he leaves school and becomes a clerk in a solicitor‘s office. A gifted Gaelic footballer, he captains the Kerry team to All-Ireland victory in 1904. He also serves as President of the Kerry Gaelic Athletic Association County Board.

Stack becomes politically active in 1908 when he joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). In 1916, as commandant of the Kerry Brigade of the Irish Volunteers, he makes preparations for the landing of arms by Roger Casement. He is made aware that Casement was arrested on Easter Saturday and was being held in Tralee. He makes no attempt to rescue him from Ballymullen Barracks.

Stack is arrested and sentenced to death for his involvement in the Easter Rising, however, this is later commuted to penal servitude for life. He is released under general amnesty in June 1917 and is elected as an abstentionist Sinn Féin MP for West Kerry at the 1918 Irish general election, becoming a member of the First Dáil. He is elected unopposed as an abstentionist member of the House of Commons of Southern Ireland and a member of the Second Dáil as a Sinn Féin TD for Kerry–Limerick West at the 1921 Irish elections.

Stack, as part of his role as Minister for Home Affairs, is widely credited with the creation and administration of the Dáil Courts. These are courts run by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in parallel and opposition to the judicial system being run by the British government. The IRA and Sinn Féin are highly successful in both getting the civilian population of Ireland to use the courts and accept their rulings. The success of this initiative gives Sinn Féin a large boost in legitimacy and supports their goals in creating a “counter-state” within Ireland as part of their overarching goals in the Irish War of Independence.

Stack opposes the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and takes part in the subsequent Irish Civil War. He is captured in 1923 and goes on hunger strike for forty-one days before being released in July 1924.

Stack is elected to the Third Dáil at the 1922 Irish general election and subsequent elections as an Anti-Treaty Sinn Féin TD for the Kerry constituency. When Éamon de Valera founds Fianna Fáil in 1926, Stack remains with Sinn Féin, being re-elected to the Dáil at the June 1927 Irish general election. He does not contest the September 1927 Irish general election.

In 1925, Stack marries Winifred (Una) Gordon, (née Cassidy), the widow of a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) district inspector, Patrick Gordon.

Stack’s health never recovers following his hunger strike and he dies at the age of 49 in a Dublin hospital on April 27, 1929.

Austin Stack Park in his hometown of Tralee, one of the Gaelic Athletic Association’s stadiums, is named in his honour, as is the Austin Stacks GAA hurling and Gaelic football club.


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Birth of Rory O’Connor, Irish Republican Revolutionary

Rory O’Connor (Irish: Ruairí Ó Conchubhair), Irish republican revolutionary, is born in Kildare Street, Dublin, on November 28, 1883.

O’Connor is educated in St. Mary’s College, Dublin, and then in Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare, a public school run by the Jesuit order. It is also attended by the man who later condemns O’Connor to death, his close friend Kevin O’Higgins. He studies experimental physics, logic, and metaphysics. He also attends the College of Science, Merrion Street. He takes a BA (1906) and receives a B.Eng (1911). In 1910, he takes his Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Arts degrees at University College Dublin (UCD), then known as the National University. Prominent in the university’s Literary and Historical Society, he advocates militant constitutional nationalism as one of the many society members active in the Young Ireland branch of the United Irish League.

O’Connor goes to work as a railway engineer, then he moves to Canada where he is an engineer in the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian Northern Railway, being responsible for the construction of 1,500 miles (2,400 km) of railroad. He returns to Ireland in 1915 at Joseph Plunkett‘s request and works for Dublin Corporation as a civil engineer. He joins the Catholic nationalist organisation the Ancient Order of Hibernians and serves in the Easter Rising in 1916 in the GPO as an intelligence officer. He is wounded by a sniper during reconnaissance at the Royal College of Surgeons.

During the subsequent Irish War of Independence (1919-21) O’Connor is Director of Engineering of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a military organisation descended from the Irish Volunteers. The specialist skills of engineering and signaling are essential to the development of the 5th Battalion, Dublin Brigade. Its men are forbidden frontline duty as their contribution is regarded as vital, their number too small. But units only expand on an incremental local basis, disappointing General Richard Mulcahy.

O’Connor is also involved in the Republican breakout from Strangeways Prison in Manchester, England, on October 25, 1919. Michael Collins takes a particular interest in the escape, and actually visits Austin Stack in the prison under a false name to finalise the arrangements. IRA men hold up traffic while a ladder is propped up against the outside of a prison wall. In all six prisoners escape, among them Piaras Beaslaí.

O’Connor refuses to accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which establishes the Irish Free State. It is ratified by a narrow vote in Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament. He and many like him feel that the Treaty copper-fastens the partition of the six counties of Northern Ireland and undermines the Irish Republic declared in 1916.

On January 10, a meeting is held at O’Connor’s home in Monkstown, Dublin. In attendance are all senior anti-Treaty IRA officers except Liam Mellows. O’Connor is appointed to chair this grouping, known as the Republican Military Council. It is agreed that an IRA convention should be called without delay; failing this, a separate GHQ will be formed. At a further meeting in O’Connor’s office on March 20, a temporary IRA GHQ staff is elected under Liam Lynch as chief of staff. O’Connor remains in charge of engineering.

On March 26, 1922, the anti-Treaty officers of the IRA hold a convention in Dublin, in which they reject the Treaty and repudiate the authority of the Dáil. However, they are prepared to discuss a way forward. The convention meets again on April 9. It creates a new army constitution and places the army under a newly elected executive of 16 men, including O’Connor, that are to choose an army council and headquarters staff. Asked by a journalist if this development means the anti-Treatyites ware proposing a “military dictatorship” in Ireland, O’Connor replies, “You can take it that way if you want.”

On April 14, 1922, O’Connor is one of a number of IRA leaders in a 200-strong force that occupies the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the Provisional Government. They intend to provoke the British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them, which they believe will restart the war with Britain and re-unite the IRA against their common enemy. They also occupy other smaller buildings regarded as being associated with the former British administration, such as the Ballast Office and the Freemasons‘ Hall in Molesworth Street, but the Four Courts remains the focus of interest. On June 15, O’Connor sends out men to collect the rifles that belong to the mutineers of the Civic Guards.

Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade the IRA men to leave the Four Courts. At the Third IRA Convention on June 18, the Executive is split over whether the Irish Government should demand that all British troops leave within 72 hours. A motion to this effect, opposed by Lynch, is narrowly defeated, whereupon O’Connor and others leave the meeting to set up a separate GHQ. The IRA effectively splits into two factions opposed to the government.

On June 22, 1922, Sir Henry Wilson is assassinated in London by two IRA men, Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, each a former British soldier. Some now argue that this was done on the orders of Michael Collins, who had been a close friend of Dunne’s in the London Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). Prime Minister David Lloyd George writes an angry letter to Collins, which includes the line “…still less can Mr. Rory O’Connor be permitted to remain his followers and his arsenal in open rebellion in the heart of Dublin… organizing and sending out from this centre enterprises of murder not only in the area of your Government…”

On June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison has kidnapped J. J. “Ginger” O’Connell, a general in the National Army, Collins gives orders for the shelling of the Four Courts with borrowed artillery lent by Winston Churchill. The shelling leads to the Four Courts catching fire, damaging parts of the building in addition to destroying numerous government documents. O’Connor is one of 130 men that surrender on June 30, some of whom are arrested and imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison. This incident marks the official start of the Irish Civil War, as fighting breaks out openly around the country between pro- and anti-Treaty factions.

On December 8, 1922, along with three other republicans, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, captured with the fall of the Four Courts, O’Connor is executed by firing squad in reprisal for the anti-Treaty IRA’s killing of Free State Teachta Dála (TD) Sean Hales. The execution order is signed by Kevin O’Higgins. O’Connor had been best man at O’Higgins’s wedding on October 27, 1921. Their deaths remain a symbol of the bitterness and division of the Irish Civil War. O’Connor, one of 77 republicans executed by the Provisional Government, is seen as a martyr by the Republican movement in Ireland.

On O’Connor’s execution, the equestrienne Joan de Sales La Terriere, a close friend of his, names her son in his honour. “Rory O’Connor Place” in Arklow is named in his honour. There is also a pub in Crumlin, Dublin, named after him and a housing estate near Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, called “Rory O’Connor Park.” A Sinn Féin cumann (UCD) is named after him.

(Pictured: Rory O’Connor addressing members of the IRA’s Dublin City Brigade at Smithfield, April 1922)


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Death of Darrell Figgis, Writer, Sinn Féin Activist & Parliamentarian

Darrell Edmund Figgis, Irish writer, Sinn Féin activist and independent parliamentarian in the Irish Free State, dies in London on October 27, 1925. The little that has been written about him has attempted to highlight how thoroughly his memory and works have been excised from Irish popular culture.

Figgis is born at Glen na Smoil, Palmerstown Park, Rathmines in Dublin, on September 17, 1882, the son of Arthur William Figges, tea merchant, and Mary Anne Deane. While still an infant, his family emigrates to Calcutta, India. There his father works as an agent in the tea business, founding A. W. Figgis & Co. They return when he is ten years of age, though his father continues to spend much of his time in India. As a young man he works in London at the tea brokerage owned by his uncle and it is at this time that he begins to develop his interest in literature and literary criticism.

In 1910 Figgis, with the help of G. K. Chesterton, who wrote the introduction to his first book of verse, joins the Dent publishing company. He moves to Achill Island in 1913 to write, learn the Irish language and gain an appreciation of Irish culture, as perceived by many of his contemporaries to uniquely exist on the western seaboard. On his detention following the 1916 Easter Rising, he and the publishing house parted company. Subsequently, he establishes his own firm in which he republishes the works of William Carleton and others.

Figgis joins the Irish Volunteers in Dublin in 1913 and organises the original Battalion of Volunteers in Achill, where he had built a house. While in London, he is contacted by The O’Rahilly, who acquaints him with the arms dealers who had supplied the Ulster Volunteers. In this way he becomes part of the London group that discusses the financing and supply of German rifles for the Volunteers. He travels with Erskine Childers, initially to Belgium and from there to Germany, to make the purchase of the army surplus Mauser rifles. He then charters the tug Gladiator, from which the arms are transferred at sea to the Childers’ yacht Asgard and Conor O’Brien‘s Kelpie.

At this time the Royal Navy is patrolling the Irish Sea in anticipation of imminent war with Germany, and Figgis is tasked with taking a motor boat to Lambay Island to signal to the Asgard the all-clear. By his own account, he is unable to persuade the skipper of the pilot vessel to put to sea as one of the worst storms in many years is raging. Due to luck and the skill of the crews, the three over-laden yachts arrive at their destinations. Figgis, accompanied by Seán McGarry, watch Asgard helplessly from Howth pier until Erskine decides to take a calculated risk and sails into the harbour. Against the odds, the conspiracy to buy rifles in Germany and land them safely in Ireland has succeeded. A large party of Volunteers, on their way to Dublin with rifles and ammunition is confronted by a detachment of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and Dublin Metropolitan Police. With their route blocked, Figgis and Thomas MacDonagh engage the officers in an attempt to distract them.

Although Figgis does not participate in the 1916 Easter Rising, he is arrested and interned by the British authorities between 1916 and 1917 in Reading Gaol. After his release, he returns to Ireland. At the 1917 Sinn Féin Ardfheis he and Austin Stack are elected Honorary Secretaries of the party. The conference sees Éamon de Valera replace Arthur Griffith as President of the party. Shortly after, Figgis is one of four recently released internees who travels to the South Longford constituency to campaign for Joseph McGuinness in the by-election caused by the death of John Phillips. The overwhelming victory of the Sinn Féin candidate over the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) nominee marks the beginning of the eclipse of the latter party by the former party. In May 1918, Figgis is arrested for his alleged part in the spurious German Plot a second time and again deported to England. In 1918, he becomes editor of the newspaper The Republic.

From September 1919 to 1921 Figgis heads the Commission of Inquiry into the Resources and Industries of Ireland. At this time a serious rift between Figgis and Michael Collins, then Minister for Finance, becomes a matter of public record. This close attention of Collins will pursue Figgis in his later activities on the Constitution Committee. While he is participating in a Dáil Court at Carrick-on-Shannon, the proceedings are interrupted by a British Army raid. An officer named Captain Cyril Crawford summarily condemns Figgis and Peadar Kearney to be hanged. He orders rope for the purpose, but another officer intervenes and Keaney and Figgis are set free.

Figgis supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He is extremely critical of the Collins/De Valera Pact for the June 1922 Irish general election which is an attempt to avoid a split in the Sinn Féin party and, more importantly, in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). On May 25, 1922 he attends a meeting of the executive council of the Farmers’ Union and representatives, of business interests, and encourages them to put forward candidates in constituencies where anti-Treaty candidates might otherwise head the poll. As he is a member of the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle National Executive at the time, he is expelled from the party.

Soon after the signing of the Treaty, the necessity of quickly drafting a constitution for the proposed Free State becomes apparent. It is intended by Arthur Griffith that Figgis will chair the Constitution Committee, but this proposal is vetoed by Collins who nominates himself for the position specifically to minimise Figgis’ influence. The animosity between Collins and Figgis remained an undercurrent of the project. In the end, Collins decides the job should go to Captain David Robinson but this did nothing to heal rift between Figgis and James G. Douglas.

In the 1922 and 1923 Irish general elections Figgis runs and is elected an independent Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin County constituency. While still a TD, he stands in the 1925 Seanad election to Seanad Éireann, where he polls only 512 first preferences.

In December 1923, it is decided that a committee be established to investigate the means by which a public radio broadcasting service should be operated in the Free State. A central issue of contention is whether the service should be run and controlled directly by the State or operated commercially by an Irish Broadcasting Company. The latter option, it is suggested, would follow the model adopted in the UK by the establishment of the BBC. Figgis is co-opted onto the committee, and this decision leads to a series of allegations resulting in the new State’s first corruption scandal of which Figgis himself is the focus. The allegations result in his resignation from the Broadcasting committee and the launching of a second enquiry. He strenuously denies any impropriety.

On November 18, 1924, Figgis’s wife Millie commits suicide in the back of a taxi in Rathfarnham using a Webley revolver given to them by Collins following the 1922 assault. A year later, his new love, a 21-year-old Catholic woman named Rita North, dies due to complications when a doctor tries to surgically remove an already dead child. The court, after investigating her death, determines that she died due to peritonitis, an inflammation in the lining of the abdominal cavity. The public, however, jumps to the conclusion that she died in a failed illegal abortion.

Figgis himself commits suicide in a London boarding house in Granville Street on October 27, 1925, just a week after giving evidence at North’s inquest. He had been staying at the Royal Automobile Club until the day before his death, as is usual when he visits London. A small group of mourners comprising close family and friends attend his interment at the Hampstead Cemetery in West Hampstead, London.

The by-election caused by his death is won by William Norton of the Labour Party.


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The Convening of the Second Dáil

The Second Dáil (Irish: An Dara Dáil) is Dáil Éireann as it convenes on August 16, 1921 following the dissolution of the First Dáil. The Second Dáil runs until June 8, 1922.

From 1919 to 1922, Dáil Éireann is the revolutionary parliament of the self-proclaimed Irish Republic. The Second Dáil consists of members elected at the 1921 Irish elections, but with only members of Sinn Féin taking their seats. On January 7, 1922, it ratifies the Anglo-Irish Treaty by 64 votes to 57 which ends the Irish War of Independence and leads to the establishment of the Irish Free State on December 6, 1922.

Since 1919, those elected for Sinn Féin at the 1918 Irish general election had abstained from the House of Commons and established Dáil Éireann as a parliament of a self-declared Irish Republic, with members calling themselves Teachtaí Dála or TDs. In December 1920, in the middle of the Irish War of Independence, the British Government passes the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which enacts partition by establishing two home rule parliaments in separate parts of Ireland. These provisions arise out of discussions held at the Irish Convention held in 1917, from which Sinn Féin abstains. In May 1921 the first elections to the House of Commons of Northern Ireland and the House of Commons of Southern Ireland are held, by means of the single transferable vote. On May 10, 1921, the Dáil passes a resolution that the elections scheduled to take place later in the month in both parts of the country will be “regarded as elections to Dáil Éireann.”

In the elections for Southern Ireland, all seats are uncontested, with Sinn Féin winning 124 of the 128 seats, and Independent Unionists winning the four seats representing the Dublin University. In the 1921 Northern Ireland general election, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) wins 40 of the 52 seats, with Sinn Féin and the Nationalist Party winning 6 seats each. Of the six seats won by Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, five are held by people who had also won seats in Southern Ireland.

The Second Dáil responds favourably to the proposal from King George V on June 22, 1921 for a truce, which becomes effective from noon on July 11, 1921. This is upheld by nearly all of the combatants while the months-long process of arranging a treaty gets under way. The Truce allows the Dáil to meet openly without fear of arrest for the first time since September 1919, when it had been banned and driven underground.

During the Second Dáil the Irish Republic and the British Government of David Lloyd George agree to hold peace negotiations. As President of Dáil Éireann, Éamon de Valera is the highest official in the Republic at this time but is notionally only the head of government. In August 1921, to strengthen his status in the negotiations, the Dáil amends the Dáil Constitution to grant him the title President of the Republic, and he thereby becomes head of state.

On September 14, 1921, the Dáil ratifies the appointment of Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Robert Barton, Eamonn Duggan and George Gavan Duffy as envoys plenipotentiary for the peace conference in England. These envoys eventually sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty on December 6. The debate on the Treaty starts on December 14, and continues until January 7, 1922. On that date, the Dáil approves the treaty by 64 in favour to 57 against. As the leader of the anti-Treaty minority, de Valera resigns as President. He allows himself to be nominated again, but is defeated on a vote of 60–58. He is succeeded as president by Arthur Griffith. The anti-Treaty deputies continue to attend the Dáil, with de Valera becoming the first Leader of the Opposition in the Dáil.

The ratification specified by the Treaty is by “a meeting summoned for the purpose of the members elected to sit in the House of Commons of Southern Ireland.” The Dáil vote does not fulfil this because four unionists are absent and one Northern Ireland member is present. The requisite approval comes at a separate meeting on January 14, 1922, attended by the unionists and boycotted by anti-Treaty TDs. The meeting also approves a Provisional Government led by Collins, which runs in parallel to Griffith’s Dáil government and with overlapping membership. The Government of Ireland Act 1920 requires the Commons to be summoned by the Lord Lieutenant and its members to take an oath of allegiance to the king, whereas the meeting on January 14 is summoned by Griffith and the members present do not take an oath.

Under the terms of the Treaty, a Constituent Assembly is to be elected to draft a Constitution for the Irish Free State to take effect by December 6, 1922. The assembly is also to serve as a “Provisional Parliament” to hold the Provisional Government responsible. This election is held on June 16, 1922 pursuant to both a resolution by the Second Dáil on May 20 and a proclamation by the Provisional Government on 27 May 27.

The Third Dáil is elected at the general election held on June 16, 1922. This election is required to be held under the Anglo-Irish Treaty signed on December 6, 1921.

(Pictured: Some members of the Second Dáil at the Grosvenor Hotel in London, seated (L to R) Éamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith, National Library of Ireland, NPA-RPH-10)


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Death of Robert Barton, Nationalist & Anglo-Irish Politician

Robert Childers Barton, Anglo-Irish politician, Irish nationalist and farmer who participates in the negotiations leading up to the signature of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, dies in Annamoe, County Wicklow, on August 10, 1975. His father is Charles William Barton and his mother is Agnes Alexandra Frances Childers. His wife is Rachel Warren of Boston, daughter of Fiske Warren. His double first cousin and close friend is the English-born Irish writer Erskine Childers.

Barton is born in Annamoe on March 14, 1881, into a wealthy Irish Protestant land-owning family, namely of Glendalough House. His two younger brothers, Erskine and Thomas, die while serving in the British Army during World War I. He is educated in England at Rugby School and the University of Oxford and becomes an officer in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers on the outbreak of World War I. He is stationed in Dublin during the 1916 Easter Rising and comes into contact with many of its imprisoned leaders in the aftermath while on duty at Richmond Barracks. He resigns his commission in protest at the heavy-handed British government suppression of the revolt. He then joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).

At the 1918 Irish general election to the British House of Commons, Barton is elected as the Sinn Féin member for West Wicklow. In common with all Sinn Féin members, he boycotts the Westminster parliament and sits instead in Dáil Éireann (the First Dáil). Arrested in February 1919 for sedition, he escapes from Mountjoy Prison on Saint Patrick’s Day, leaving a note to the governor explaining that, owing to the discomfort of his cell, he felt compelled to leave, and requests the governor to keep his luggage until he sends for it. He is appointed as Director of Agriculture in the Dáil Ministry in April 1919. He is recaptured in January 1920 and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, but is released under the general amnesty of July 1921.

In May of that year, prior to his release, Barton is elected as a Sinn Féin member for Kildare–Wicklow in the 1921 Irish election to the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. Once again all Sinn Féin members boycott this parliament, sitting as the Second Dáil. In August 1921, he is appointed to cabinet as Secretary for Economic Affairs.

Barton is one of the Irish plenipotentiaries to travel to London for the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations. His cousin is a secretary to the delegation. He reluctantly signs the Treaty on December 6, 1921, defending it “as the lesser of two outrages forced upon me and between which I had to choose.”

Although he had signed the Treaty and voted for it in the Dáil, Barton stands in the 1922 Irish general election for Anti-Treaty Sinn Féin, the only TD who had voted for the Treaty to do so, and wins a seat in the Third Dáil. In common with other Anti-Treaty TDs, he does not take his seat. In October 1922 he is appointed Minister for Economic Affairs in Éamon de Valera‘s “Emergency Government,” a shadow government in opposition to the Provisional Government and the later Executive Council of the Irish Free State. His memoir of this period is completed in 1954, and can be seen on the Bureau of Military History website. He is arrested and interned for most of the war at the Curragh Camp.

Barton is defeated at the 1923 Irish general election and retires from politics for the law, practicing as a barrister. He later becomes a judge. He is chairman of the Agricultural Credit Corporation from 1934 to 1954. He dies at home in County Wicklow on August 10, 1975, at the age of 94, the last surviving signatory of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Éamon de Valera dies only nineteen days later, on August 29, 1975.

Glendalough House, run by Barton for over 70 years right up until his death, is still considered one of Ireland’s most notable properties, alongside nearby Powerscourt Estate. The house is the center of numerous political meetings and gatherings from 1910 to 1922. It has also been featured as a location in many large Hollywood films including Excalibur, Saving Private Ryan and Braveheart.


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Death of 1981 Hunger Striker Thomas McElwee

Thomas McElwee, Irish republican volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), dies on August 8, 1981 at the age of 23 after 62 days on hunger strike at Long Kesh Prison.

McElwee, the sixth of twelve children, is born on November 30, 1957, into the small, whitewashed home built by his father, along the Tamlaghtduff Road in Bellaghy, County Derry, Northern Ireland. He attended St. Mary’s primary in Bellaghy, and then Clady intermediate. After leaving school he goes to Magherafelt technical college for a while, but later changes his mind and goes to Ballymena training centre to begin an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic. Harassment from loyalist workers there forces him to leave and he then goes to work with a local mechanic.

McElwee and his cousin Francis Hughes form an independent Republican unit, which for several years carries out ambushes on British Army patrols as well as bomb attacks in neighbouring towns such as Magherafelt, Castledawson, and Maghera.

In October 1976, McElwee takes part in a planned bombing blitz on the town of Ballymena. Along with several colleagues, he is transporting one of the bombs, which explodes prematurely and blinds him in his right eye. He is transferred from the Ballymena hospital to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for emergency surgery to save his remaining eye. It is three weeks before he is able to see at all.

After six weeks McElwee is transferred again, this time to the military wing of the Musgrave Park Hospital. One week before Christmas, he is charged and sent to Crumlin Road Gaol.

At McElwee’s subsequent trial in September 1977, having spent over eight months on remand in Crumlin Road, he is charged and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for possession of explosives and the murder of Yvonne Dunlop, who is killed when one of the firebombs destroys the shop where she is employed. His murder charge is reduced to manslaughter on appeal, although the original jail term stands. He returns to the blanket protest he had joined immediately after his trial, in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh.

Imprisonment is particularly harsh for McElwee and his brother Benedict who are frequently singled out for brutality by prison warders, outraged at the stubborn refusal of the two to accept any form of criminal status. On one occasion he is put on the boards for fourteen days for refusing to call a prison warder ‘sir.’ In a letter smuggled out to his sister Mary, Benedict writes of the imprint of a warder’s boot on his back and arms after a typical assault. However, throughout the brutality and degradation they have to endure serves only to deepen yet further, and harder, their resistance to criminalisation.

McElwee joins the 1981 Irish hunger strike on June 7, 1981 and died on August 8, 1981, after 62 days on the strike. Indicative of the callousness of the British government towards prisoners and their families alike, he is denied the comfort of his brother’s presence at that tragic moment. He dies after 62 days of slow agonising hunger strike with no company other than prison warders – colleagues of those who had brutalised, degraded and tortured him for three-and-a-half years.

In 2009, Republican Sinn Féin (RSF) name their Waterford cumann after McElwee, replacing that of George Lennon, O/C of the Waterford Flying Column who led the IRA anti-Treaty Republicans into Waterford City in March 1922. The Waterford RSF had adopted the Lennon name without the permission of his son who noted that his father had, in later years, become a committed pacifist and opponent of the Vietnam War.

McElwee is the main subject of the song Farewell to Bellaghy, which also mentions his cousin Francis Hughes, other members of the independent Republican unit and deceased volunteers of the South Derry Brigade of the Provisional IRA. He is also the subject of The Crucifucks‘ song The Story of Thomas McElwee.