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


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Assassination of Sir Richard Sykes, British Ambassador to the Netherlands

Sir Richard Adam Sykes, KCMG, MC, the British Ambassador to the Netherlands, is assassinated by two members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) outside his residence in The Hague on March 22, 1979.

Sykes is born on May 8, 1920 to Brigadier A. C. Sykes. For his schooling he attends Wellington College before going up to the University of Oxford, where he attends Christ Church.

During World War II, Sykes serves in the British Army with the Royal Signals from 1940 to 1946. During his service he attains the rank of major. In 1945 he is awarded the Military Cross as well as the Croix de Guerre by France.

Sykes joined HM Foreign Service in 1947 and serves at the Foreign Office from 1947 to 1948. He then serves in Nanjing (1948–50), Peking (1950–52) and returns to the UK to serve at the Foreign Office (1952–56). His next overseas postings take him to Brussels (1956–59), Santiago (1959–62) and Athens (1963–66), before returning to the Foreign Office (1967–69).

Sykes’ first posting as an ambassador comes with a posting to Havana (1970–72) before moving to be a Minister at the British Embassy in Washington D.C. (1972–1975). From there he returns to the Foreign Office as Department Under-Secretary between 1975 and 1977. He is then appointed as Ambassador to the Netherlands in 1977.

Sykes is leaving his residence in The Hague at 9:00 a.m. on March 22, 1979, and is getting into his silver Rolls-Royce limousine when he is shot. He is sitting next to Alyson Bailes. The car door is held by Karel Straub, a 19-year-old Dutch national who works at the embassy. Straub is also shot in the attack. The chauffeur, Jack Wilson, is uninjured and drives Sykes to Westeinde Hospital, where he dies two hours later. Straub is transported by ambulance to the same hospital, where he also dies.

Police report that the shots came from around 10 yards away by two assailants wearing business suits, who escaped on foot following the attack. Suspects for the assassination are Palestinians or Iraqis, although no evidence is ever put forward. It is ultimately confirmed that the IRA had carried out the killings.

The IRA claims responsibility for the assassination in February 1980. In a statement they say of Sykes, “[he was] not just a Brit propagandist, as are all British ambassadors, but because he had been engaged in intelligence operations against our organisation.”

The ‘intelligence operations’ mentioned in the statement relate to a government report written by Sykes following the assassination of Christopher Ewart-Biggs. Ewart-Biggs was the British Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland and was killed by the IRA in 1976. Sykes produces diplomatic security guidelines as part of his report.

Sykes’ position as Ambassador to the Netherlands had been strained due to certain Dutch groups, which were sympathetic to the IRA, and consequent arms smuggling activities.

There is a memorial plaque to Sykes in St. Michael’s Church, Wilsford, Wiltshire.

(Pictured: “Sir Richard Sykes” by Bassano Ltd., half-plate film negative, 20 January 1966, National Portrait Gallery, London)


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Birth of John Boland, Politician & Olympic Medalist

John Mary Pius Boland, Irish Nationalist politician, is born at 135 Capel Street, Dublin, on September 16, 1870. He serves as a Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and as a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party for South Kerry (1900–1918). He is also noteworthy as a gold medalist tennis player at the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896.

Boland is born to Patrick Boland (1840–1877), businessman, and Mary Donnelly. Following the death of his mother in 1882, he is placed with his six siblings under the guardianship of his uncle Nicholas Donnelly, auxiliary bishop of Dublin.

Boland is educated at two private Catholic schools, one Irish, the second English, and both of whose existence and evolution are influenced by John Henry Newman – the Catholic University School, Dublin, and The Oratory School, Birmingham. His secondary education at the two schools helps give him the foundation and understanding to play an influential role in the politics of Great Britain and Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century, when he is a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party which pursues constitutional Home Rule.

In 1892 Boland graduates with a BA from London University. He studies for a semester in Bonn, Germany, where he is a member of Bavaria Bonn, a student fraternity that is member of the Cartellverband. He studies law at Christ Church, Oxford, graduating with a BA in 1896 and MA in 1901. Although called to the Bar in 1897, he never practises.

Boland is the first Olympic champion in tennis for Great Britain and Ireland at the first modern Olympics, which takes place in Athens in 1896. He visits his friend Thrasyvoulos Manos in Athens during the Olympics, and Manos, a member of the organising committee, enters Boland in the tennis tournament. Boland promptly wins the singles tournament, defeating Friedrich Traun of Germany in the first round, Evangelos Rallis of Greece in the second, Konstantinos Paspatis of Greece in the semifinals, and Dionysios Kasdaglis of Greece in the final.

Boland then enters the doubles event with Traun, the German runner whom he had defeated in the first round of the singles. Together, they win the doubles event. They defeat Aristidis and Konstantinos Akratopoulos of Greece in the first round, have a bye in the semifinals, and defeat Demetrios Petrokokkinos of Greece and Dimitrios Kasdaglis in the final. When the Union Flag and the German flag are run up the flagpole to honour Boland and Traun’s victory, Boland points out to the man hoisting the flags that he is Irish, adding “It’s a gold harp on a green ground, we hope.” The officials agree to have an Irish flag prepared.

Following a visit to Kerry, Boland becomes concerned about the lack of literacy among the native population, as he also has a keen interest in the Irish language.

In 1908, Boland is appointed a member of the commission for the foundation of the National University of Ireland (NUI). From 1926 to 1947, he is General Secretary of the Catholic Truth Society. He receives a papal knighthood, becoming a Knight of St. Gregory in recognition for his work in education, and in 1950 he is awarded an honorary doctorate of Laws by the NUI.

Boland marries Eileen Moloney (1876–1937), daughter of an Australian Dr. Patrick Moloney, at SS Peter and Edward, Palace-street, Westminster, on October 22, 1902. They have one son and five daughters. His daughter Honor Crowley (née Boland) succeeds her husband, Frederick Crowley, upon his death sitting as Fianna Fáil TD for South Kerry from 1945 until her death in 1966. His daughter Bridget Boland is a playwright who writes The Prisoner.

Boland dies at the age of 87 at his home in London on Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1958.


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Birth of Con Cremin, Irish Diplomat

con-creminCornelius Christopher Cremin, Irish diplomat, is born in Kenmare, County Kerry on December 6, 1908.

One of four children, Cremin is born to a family that operates a drapery business. His brother, Francis Cremin, becomes a leading academic canon lawyer who frames a number of key church documents. He is educated at St. Brendan’s College, Killarney and from 1926 at University College Cork, where he graduates with a first-class degree in Classics and Commerce.

Around 1929 Cremin is awarded the post-graduate University College Cork Honan scholarship. By 1930 he has attained a degree in economics and accountancy. For the following three years he studies in Athens, Munich and Oxford, having attained a traveling scholarship in Classics. He subsequently enters the Department of External Affairs, having succeeded in the competition for third secretary in 1935.

In April 1935 Cremin marries Patricia O’Mahony. His first position in Dublin involves working with Frederick Henry Boland on the League of Nations portfolio. In 1937 he is sent abroad on his first posting to Paris. There he works under the “Revolutionary Diplomat” Art O’Brien, until the latter retires in 1938. Sean Murphy later becomes his Minister. Ireland declares neutrality on the outbreak of World War II and Murphy and Cremin report on the developments in France throughout the Phoney War.

After the fall of France, the Irish legation is the last to leave Paris except for the American Ambassador, on June 11, 1940. After traveling to Ascain the legation eventually makes its way to the new French Capital, Vichy, where it sets about looking after the needs of Irish citizens, many of whom have been interned, as they have British passports and have been sending political reports. The political reports are of the highest value and insure that Irish continue to observe pro-Allied neutrality throughout the war.

In 1943 Cremin is sent to Berlin to replace William Warnock. Prior to his arrival the Legation is bombed. As Chargé d’affaires in Berlin, he is responsible for sending back political reports and looking after the interests of Irish citizens. He attempts, unsuccessfully, to assist some European Jews. He does however send full reports on the Nazi treatment of the Jews in Europe. Warned to leave Berlin before the Soviets arrive, he spends the last weeks of the war near the Swiss border.

In 1945 Cremin is sent to Lisbon, where he meets authoritarian president António de Oliveira Salazar and attempts to revive Irish trade as well as reporting on the various unsuccessful coups against Salazar.

After returning to Ireland in 1946 he is involved in preparing Ireland’s Marshall Plan application and tracing the development of Ireland’s post war foreign policy. He has a distinguished career representing Ireland in many foreign missions and at the United Nations.

After retiring Cremin remains chairman of the Irish delegation to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. After his first wife dies he marries again in 1979. He dies in Kenmare on April 19, 1987, survived by his wife, three daughters, and a son.


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Peter O’Connor Sets World Long Jump Record

peter-oconnorPeter O’Connor, Irish track and field athlete, sets a long-standing world long jump record of 24′ 11-3/4″ in Dublin on August 5, 1901. He also wins two Olympic medals in the 1906 Intercalated Games.

Born in Millom, Cumberland, England on October 24, 1872, O’Connor grows up in Wicklow, County Wicklow. He joins the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in 1896. In 1899 he wins All-Ireland medals in long jump, high jump and hop, step and jump (triple jump). Over the next ten years he consistently beats British athletes in international competitions. The Amateur Athletic Association of England invites him to represent Britain in the 1900 Summer Olympics but he refused as he only wishes to represent Ireland.

As of June 1900, the world record for the long jump is held by Myer Prinstein of Syracuse University, at 24′ 7-1/4″. In 1900 and 1901, competing with the Irish Amateur Athletic Association (IAAA), a rival association to the GAA, O’Connor sets several unofficial world records in the long jump. He sets an officially recognised world record of 24′ 9″ at the Royal Dublin Society’s grounds in Dublin on May 27, 1901. On August 5, 1901 he jumps 24′ 11-3/4″ in Dublin. This is the first IAAF-recognised long jump world record. It causes a sensation at the time, being only a fraction short of the 25-foot barrier, and remains unbeaten for 20 years, a longevity surpassed only by Jesse Owens‘s 25-year record and Bob Beamon‘s 23-year record. It remains an Irish record for a remarkable 89 years.

In 1906 O’Connor and two other athletes, Con Leahy and John Daly, are entered for the Intercalated Games in Athens by the IAAA and GAA, representing Ireland. However, the rules of the games are changed so that only athletes nominated by National Olympic Committees are eligible. Ireland does not have an Olympic Committee, and the British Olympic Council claims the three. On registering for the Games, O’Connor and his fellow athletes find that they are listed as Great Britain, not Irish, team members.

In the long jump competition, O’Connor finally meets Myer Prinstein of the Irish American Athletic Club who is competing for the U.S. team and whose world record O’Connor had broken five years previously. The only judge for the competition is Matthew Halpin, who is manager of the American team. O’Connor protests, fearing bias, but is overruled. He continues to protest Halpin’s decisions through the remainder of the competition. When the distances are announced at the end of the competition, Prinstein is declared the winner, with O’Connor in Silver Medal position.

At the flag-raising ceremony, in protest of the flying of the Union Flag for his second place, O’Connor scales a flagpole in the middle of the field and waves the Irish flag, while the pole is guarded by Con Leahy.

In the hop, step and jump competition two days later, O’Connor beats his fellow countryman, Con Leahy, to win the Gold Medal. At 34 he is the oldest ever Gold Medal winner in this event. Prinstein, the champion in 1900 and 1904, did not medal.

O’Connor wins no more titles after 1906. He remains involved in athletics all his life. He is a founder member and first Vice-President of Waterford Athletic Club, and attends later Olympics both as judge and spectator. He practises as a solicitor in Waterford and is married with nine children. He dies in Waterford on November 9, 1957.


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Death of Olympic Gold Medalist Martin John Sheridan

martin-john-sheridanMartin John Sheridan, “one of the greatest athletes the United States has ever known” according to his obituary in The New York Times, dies in St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, New York City on March 27, 1918, the day before his 37th birthday.

Sheridan is born in Bohola, County Mayo on March 28, 1881. At 6’3″ and 194 lbs., Sheridan is the best all-around athlete of the Irish American Athletic Club, and like many of his teammates, serves with the New York City Police Department from 1906 until his death. He is so well respected in the NYPD, that he serves as the Governor’s personal bodyguard when the governor is in New York City.

A five-time Olympic gold medalist, with a total of nine Olympic medals, Sheridan is called “one of the greatest figures that ever represented this country in international sport, as well as being one of the most popular who ever attained the championship honor.” He wins the discus throw event at the 1904, 1906, and 1908 Summer Olympic Games as well as the shot put at the 1906 Olympics and the Greek discus in 1908. At the 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens, Greece he also wins silver medals in the standing high jump, standing long jump and the stone throw.

In 1907, Sheridan wins the National Amateur Athletic Union discus championship and the Canadian championship, and in 1908 he wins the Metropolitan, National and Canadian championships as well as two gold medals in the discus throw and bronze in the standing long jump at the 1908 Olympic Games.

Two of Sheridan’s gold medals from the 1904 Summer Olympic Games in St. Louis, Missouri and one of his medals from the 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens, Greece, are currently located in the USA Track & Field‘s Hall of Fame History Gallery, in Washington Heights, Manhattan.

There are claims that Sheridan fuels a controversy in London in 1908, when flagbearer Ralph Rose refuses to dip the flag to King Edward VII. Sheridan supports Rose by explaining “This flag dips to no earthly king,” and it is claimed that his statement exemplifies both Irish and American defiance of the British monarchy. However, careful research has shown that this is first reported in 1952. Sheridan himself makes no mention of it in his published reports on the Games and neither does his obituary.

Martin Sheridan dies in Manhattan, New York City on March 27, 1918, a very early casualty of the 1918 flu pandemic. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York. The inscription on the granite Celtic Cross monument marking his grave says in part: “Devoted to the Institutions of his Country, and the Ideals and Aspirations of his Race. Athlete. Patriot.” He is part of a group of Irish American athletes known as the “Irish Whales.”