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


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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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Death of Sinn Féin Leader Margaret Buckley

Margaret Buckley, Irish republican and leader of Sinn Féin from 1937 to 1950, dies on July 24, 1962.

Originally from Cork, Buckley joins Inghinidhe na hÉireann, which was founded in 1900, taking an active role in the women’s movement. She is involved in anti-British royal visit protests in 1903 and 1907 and is among the group that founds An Dún in Cork in 1910. In 1906, she marries Patrick Buckley, described as “a typical rugby-playing British civil servant.” After his death she moves into a house in Marguerite Road, Glasnevin, Dublin. Later, she returns to Cork to care for her elderly father.

Arrested in the aftermath of 1916 Easter Rising, she is released in the amnesty of June 1917 and plays a prominent role in the reorganisation of Sinn Féin. She is involved in the Irish War of Independence in Cork.

After the death of her father, Buckley returns to Dublin. In 1920, she becomes a Dáil Court judge in the North city circuit, appointed by Austin Stack, the Minister for Home Affairs of the Irish Republic. She opposes the Anglo-Irish Treaty and is interned in Mountjoy Gaol and Kilmainham Gaol, where she goes on a hunger strike. She is released in October 1923. During her imprisonment, she is elected Officer Commanding (OC) of the republican prisoners in Mountjoy, Quartermaster (QM) in the North Dublin Union and OC of B-Wing in Kilmainham. She is an active member of the Women Prisoners’ Defence League, founded by Maud Gonne and Charlotte Despard in 1922.

In 1929, she serves as a member of Comhairle na Poblachta which unsuccessfully attempts to resolve the differences between Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army (IRA). She is also an organiser for the Irish Women Workers’ Union.

At the October 1934 Sinn Féin ardfheis, Buckley is elected one of the party’s vice-presidents. Three years later, in 1937, she succeeds Cathal Ó Murchadha, who is a former Teachta Dála (TD) of the second Dáil Éireann, as President of Sinn Féin at an ardfheis attended by only forty delegates.

When she assumes the leadership of Sinn Féin, the party is not supported by the IRA, which had severed its links with the party in the 1920s. When she leaves the office in 1950, relations with the IRA have been resolved. As President she begins the lawsuit Buckley v. Attorney-General, the Sinn Féin Funds case, in which the party seeks unsuccessfully to be recognised as owners of money raised by Sinn Féin before 1922 and held in trust in the High Court since 1924.

In 1938, her book, The Jangle of the Keys, about the experiences of Irish Republican women prisoners interned by the Irish Free State forces is published. In 1956, her Short History of Sinn Féin is published.

Buckley serves as honorary vice-president of Sinn Féin from 1950 until her death in 1962. She is the only member of the Ard Chomhairle of the party not to be arrested during a police raid in July 1957.

Margaret Buckley dies on July 24, 1962 and is buried in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork.


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Dáil Éireann Declares War with Great Britain

first-dailThe President of the Dáil Éireann, Éamon de Valera, secures on March 11th, 1921, the chamber’s support for a formal declaration of war with Great Britain.

In January 1921, at his first Dáil meeting after his return to a country gripped by the War of Independence, de Valera introduces a motion calling on the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to desist from ambushes and other tactics that are allowing the British to successfully portray it as a terrorist group, and to take on the British forces with conventional military methods. This they strongly oppose, and de Valera relents, issuing a statement expressing support for the IRA, and claims it is fully under the control of the Dáil. He then, along with Cathal Brugha and Austin Stack, bring pressure to bear on Michael Collins to undertake a journey to the United States himself, on the pretext that only he can take up where de Valera had left off. Collins successfully resists this move and stays in Ireland.

The British government’s proposal of a Truce and negotiations over Ireland’s future is a result of both domestic and international factors. The British have been unable to defeat the Irish struggle for independence and there is a danger that the longer it continues the more radicalised it is becoming. In March 1921 Southern Unionist leader Lord Midleton also points to the strengthening of the independence movement, telling David Lloyd George and Hamar Greenwood that the resistance is now three times stronger than in July 1920. The following month Greenwood himself is talking of pacification taking years rather than months. British government policy in Ireland is also creating problems for it both internationally (especially in the United States) and in Britain itself. At the same time Britain is facing growing independence struggles in Egypt and India. It also faces an increasingly difficult financial situation. British foreign trade suffers a substantial collapse in 1921 as its exports fall by 48 percent over a twelve month period, its imports drop by 44 percent, and unemployment rapidly increases. The Economist describes 1921 as one of the worst years of depression since the industrial revolution began.

There is a substantial debate in the British Cabinet about whether or not to proceed along these lines. An example of this is the May 12, 1921 Cabinet meeting. Greenwood appears to have revised his view about how long pacification will take. He is opposed to the Truce proposal at this stage, feeling that the republicans are being worn down. Health Minister Christopher Addison disagrees and favours a truce. Winston Churchill, who has been in favour of the substantial escalation of coercion, now supports a truce partly because things are getting “very unpleasant as regards the interests of this country all over the world; we are getting an odious reputation; poisoning our relations with the United States.” Herbert Fisher, who is a historian and head of the Board of Education as well as a politician, also worries, “the present situation is degrading to the moral life of the whole country; a truce would mean a clear moral and political gain” and that if the IRA accepts the truce it will be hard for them to start up again, it will also “create a big rift in Sinn Féin ranks, the moderate Sinn Féin would have to come out into the open.” This meeting rejects the idea of a truce. In June, however, a memorandum from Nevil Macready states that beating the republicans will require coercion being carried out to the maximum and if this is done the cabinet will have to stand by 100 executions a week. Such a policy is a political impossibility. In this situation, Lloyd George proposes an Anglo-Irish conference and negotiations.


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Michael Collins Made President of the IRB

michael-collinsMichael Collins, who is also a leader in the Irish Republican Army, is made president of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) on June 28, 1919.

At the start of the 20th century, the IRB is a stagnating organisation, concerned more with Dublin municipal politics than the establishment of a republic. A younger generation of Ulster republicans aim to change this and, in 1905, Denis McCullough and Bulmer Hobson found the Dungannon Clubs, whose purpose is to discourage enlistment into the British Army and encourage enlistment into the IRB.

In 1909, Michael Collins is introduced to the brotherhood by Sam Maguire. By 1914, the Supreme Council is largely purged of its older, tired leadership, and is dominated by enthusiastic men such as Hobson, McCullough, Patrick McCartan, John MacBride, Seán Mac Diarmada, and Tom Clarke. The latter two are to become the primary instigators of the Easter Rising in 1916.

Following the Rising some republicans, notably Éamon de Valera and Cathal Brugha, leave the organization as they view it as no longer necessary since the Irish Volunteers now perform its function. The IRB, during the War of Independence (1919-1921), is under the control of Michael Collins, who initially is secretary and subsequently, on June 28, 1919, is made president of the Supreme Council.

When the Anglo-Irish Treaty is signed on December 6, 1921, it is debated by the Supreme Council, which votes to accept it by an 11-4 vote. Those who oppose the Treaty include former leader Harry Boland, Austin Stack, and Liam Lynch. Anti-Treaty republicans like Ernie O’Malley, who fought during the Civil War against the Treaty, see the IRB as being used to undermine the Irish Republic.

The IRB becomes quiescent during the Irish Civil War, which ends in May 1923, but it emerges again later that year as a faction within the National Army. It supports Minister for Defence Richard Mulcahy against the “Old IRA,” which fights against the recruitment of ex-British Army personnel and the demobilization of old IRA men. This comes to a head with the Army Mutiny of 1924, in the wake of which Mulcahy resigns and other IRB members of the army are dismissed by acting President of the Executive Council Kevin O’Higgins. The IRB subsequently dissolves itself, although it is not known whether a formal decision is made or it simply ceases to function.