seamus dubhghaill

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


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Execution of Major Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith

geoffrey-lee-compton-smithMajor Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith (DSO) of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers is captured and executed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 30, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

Compton-Smith was born in 1889 in South Kensington, London. After finishing school, he decides not to follow the family tradition of studying law. He actually wants to become an artist, but his father insists that he join the army. He studies at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and during World War I his regiment is sent to France. In 1917 he is wounded at the Battle of Arras, but he continues to fight on. He is awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). In 1919 he is sent to serve in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence.

In 1919 Compton-Smith is commander of the British Army base at Ballyvonane, near Buttevant, but he is also an intelligence officer. As an officer he also sometimes presides over courts martial. In January 1921, for instance, three IRA volunteers are tried by him for involvement in the ambush at Shinanagh, near Charleville, and he sentences them each to six months.

February 1921 is a bad time for the IRA in County Cork. They suffer major losses at the ambushes at Clonmult and Mourne Abbey, and several volunteers are taken prisoner, four of whom are sentenced to death. The IRA believes that these death sentences might be commuted if a British officer is held as a hostage. This leads to the capture of Compton-Smith. On April 16, 1921 he travels to Blarney, supposedly on a sketching trip but actually to meet a nurse in Victoria Barracks with whom he is having an affair. The IRA has spies in Victoria Barracks who likely tip off the IRA that Compton-Smith is coming to Blarney. A squad led by Frank Busteed easily capture him after he gets off the train.

Busteed then meets with Jackie O’Leary, the IRA battalion commander. It is decided that Donoughmore is the perfect place to keep a hostage, because parts of the parish are remote and the IRA is strong there.

On April 18, under the cover of darkness, Compton-Smith is transferred by car to Knockane House, an abandoned big house in Donoughmore. The following night he is moved again, this time by pony and trap, to Barrahaurin, a remote townland in the Boggeragh Mountains. He is kept there for the last eleven days of his life, on the small farm of Jack and Mary Moynihan. He is held prisoner in a shed, always under guard. Every evening he is brought into the house, where he eats and stays at the fireside. He and his guards have conversations about history and politics.

The four IRA prisoners are executed on April 28, 1921. On April 30, O’Leary informs Compton-Smith that he is going to be executed. He then writes a final letter to his wife. He tells her that he will die with her name on his lips and her face before his eyes and that he will “die like an Englishman and a soldier.” He also writes a letter to his regiment and one to Lt. General Strickland.

After finishing his letters, Compton-Smith is led up into Barrahaurin bog behind the Moynihan house, to a place where his grave had already been dug, and is given a final cigarette. In his witness statement Maurice Brew writes, “When removed to the place of execution he placed his cigarette case in his breast pocket of his tunic … He then lighted a cigarette and said that when he dropped the cigarette it could be taken as a signal by the execution squad to open fire.”

It is not until late May, following the discovery of the cache of letters in a Dublin raid, that the Compton-Smith family is informed of his death. His father, William, then starts a campaign to find his son’s body. He wrote letters to MPs and to the British Army, seeking information and help. He also writes to Erskine Childers but gets no reply. He offers a reward of £500 for information, but only The Irish Times agrees to print his advertisement.

In November 1921 a cousin of Compton-Smith’s wife, Gladys, meets Michael Collins in London and asks him for help in finding the body. Correspondence between Collins and the Compton-Smith family suggests that Collins is trying to help in 1922, but he fails to get any results before he is assassinated at Béal na Bláth later that same year.

On March 3, 1926 Compton-Smith’s grave is discovered by the Gardaí. The newspapers report that the remains, because of the conditions of the bog, “were not so badly decomposed as to render identification impossible.” The body is brought to Collins Barracks in Cork. On March 5 the Gardaí send a telegram to the Compton-Smiths, informing them that the body has been located.

The reburial of Compton-Smith is carried out with great dignity on March 19, 1926. The Irish Army escorts the coffin from Collins Barracks to Penrose Quay, where British forces from Spike Island take the coffin on board a boat. While the boat travels down the River Lee, the Irish Army’s guard of honour presents arms and sounds the “Last Post.” The British then bring the coffin to Carlisle Fort, near Whitegate, where it was buried in the in the British Military Cemetery with full military honours.


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Formation of the Provisional Government of Ireland

provisional-government-of irelandA meeting of the members elected to the House of Commons of Southern Ireland is held at the Mansion House in Dublin on January 14, 1922. At the meeting the Anglo-Irish Treaty is ratified by the Irish side in accordance with the Treaty and a Provisional Government is elected for the purposes of Article 17 of the Treaty.

Under the Irish Republic‘s Dáil Constitution adopted in 1919, Dáil Éireann continues to exist after it has ratified the Anglo-Irish Treaty. In protest at the ratification, Éamon de Valera resigns the presidency of the Dáil then seeks re-election from among its members in order to clarify his mandate, but Arthur Griffith defeats him in the vote and assumes the presidency.

Most of the Dáil Ministers become concurrently Ministers of this Provisional Government. Michael Collins becomes Chairman of the Provisional Government (i.e. prime minister). He also remains Minister for Finance of Griffith’s republican administration.

The Provisional Government takes office two days later on January 16, 1922 when British administration hands over Dublin Castle to Collins in person. At this time, Westminster has not formally appointed the new Irish ministers or conferred their government with any powers.

The handover of Dublin Castle to the Provisional Government is one of the earliest and most remarkable events in the short life of the Provisional Government. For centuries Dublin Castle is the symbol, as well as the citadel, of British rule in Ireland. The transfer of its Castle administration to the representatives of the Irish people is greatly welcomed in Dublin. It is regarded as a significant outward and visible sign that British rule is ending.

Following the general election on June 16, 1922, held just before the outbreak of the Irish Civil War, the Second Provisional Government takes power until the creation of the Irish Free State on December 6, 1922.

By mid-1922, Collins in effect lays down his responsibilities as Chairman of the Provisional Government to become Commander-in-Chief of the Irish Army, a formal structured uniformed army that forms around the pro-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA). As part of those duties, he travels to his native County Cork. En route home on August 22, 1922, at Béal na Bláth, he is killed in an ambush. Arthur Griffith dies of a cerebral haemorrhage ten days prior to Collins’ assassination. After Collins’ and Griffith’s deaths in August 1922, W. T. Cosgrave becomes both Chairman of the Provisional Government and President of Dáil Éireann, and the distinction between the two posts becomes irrelevant.

On December 6, 1922, the Irish Free State comes into being, and the Provisional Government becomes the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, presided over by a prime minister called the President of the Executive Council. On December 7 the House of Commons of Northern Ireland unanimously exercises its right under the Treaty to opt out of the Free State.

(Pictured: The Provisional Government of Ireland with President Arthur Griffith (front row center) and his cabinet and party includng Michael Collins (to Griffith’s right) likely taken at the Mansion House in February 1922)


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The Funeral of Michael Collins

Michael Collins, soldier and politician who is a leading figure in the struggle for, and achievement of Irish independence in the early 20th century, is laid to rest in Dublin‘s Glasnevin Cemetery on August 28, 1922.

Collins is shot and killed by anti-Treaty ambushers as his Free State Army convoy approaches Béal na Bláth, an isolated crossroads in County Cork, on August 22, 1922 during the Irish Civil War.

Collins’s body is transported by sea from Cork to Dublin. He lay in state for three days in Dublin City Hall where tens of thousands of mourners filed past his coffin to pay their respects, including many British soldiers departing Ireland who had fought against him. His funeral mass on August 28, 1922 takes place at Dublin’s St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral where a number of foreign and Irish dignitaries are in attendance. According to a report in The New York Times, the seven mile journey from the cathedral to his final resting place in Glasnevin Cemetery is lined with half a million mourners, almost one fifth of the country’s population at the time, and many of whom likely differed with him on his Treaty vote.

No official inquiry is ever undertaken into Collins’s death and consequently there is no official version of what happened, nor are there any authoritative, detailed contemporary records.

In this vacuum, independent investigations and conspiracy theorists have put forward a number of suspects as having executed or ordered his death, including an anti-Treaty sharpshooter, members of his own escort, the British Secret Intelligence Service, or Éamon de Valera himself.

De Valera is alleged to have declared in 1966, “It is my considered opinion that in the fullness of time history will record the greatness of Michael Collins; and it will be recorded at my expense.”

An annual commemoration ceremony takes place each year in August at the ambush site at Béal na Bláth, organised by The Béal na mBláth Commemoration Committee. In 2009, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson gives the oration. In 2010, the Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan, Jnr. becomes the first Fianna Fáil person to give the oration. In 2012, on the 90th anniversary of the death of Collins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny gives the oration, the first serving head of government to do so. There is also a remembrance ceremony in Glasnevin Cemetery every year at Collins’s gravesite on the anniversary of his death.

RIP Big Fellow!


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The Assassination of Michael Collins

michael-collinsMichael Collins, soldier and politician who is a leading figure in the struggle for Irish independence in the early 20th century, is shot and killed in ambush at Béal na Bláth, County Cork, on August 22, 1922.

In August 1922, the Irish Civil War seems to be winding down. The Irish Free State has regained control of most of the country and Collins is making frequent trips to inspect areas recently recovered from anti-Treaty forces.

His plan to travel to his native Cork on August 20 is considered particularly dangerous and he is strenuously advised against it by several trusted associates. County Cork is an Irish Republican Army (IRA) stronghold, much of it still held by anti-Treaty forces. Yet he seems determined to make the trip without delay. He has fended off a number of attempts on his life in the preceding weeks and has acknowledged more than once, in private conversation, that the Civil War might end his life at any moment. On several occasions Collins assures his advisors that they will not shoot him in his own county.

On August 22, 1922 Collins sets out from Cork City on a circuitous tour of West Cork. He passes first through Macroom then takes the Bandon road via Crookstown. This leads through Béal na Bláth, an isolated crossroads. There they stop at a local pub, now known as the The Diamond Bar, to ask a question of a man standing at the crossroad. The man turns out to be an anti-Treaty sentry. He and an associate recognise Collins in the back of the open-top car. As a result, an ambush is laid by an anti-Treaty column at that point, on the chance that the convoy might come through again on their return journey.

Shortly before 8:00 PM, Collins’ convoy approaches Béal na Bláth for the second time. By that time most of the ambush party has dispersed and gone for the day, leaving just five or six men on the scene. Two are disarming a mine in the road, while three on a laneway overlooking them, provide cover. A dray cart, placed across the road, remains at the far end of the ambush site.

Shots are exchanged. Collins, who suffers a head wound, is the only fatality. Almost every other detail of what happens is uncertain, due to conflicting reports from participants and other flaws in the record.

michael-collins-bodySome of the most disputed details include how the shooting starts, what kind of fire the convoy comes under, where the ambushers’ first shots strike, where Collins is and what he is doing when he is hit, whether anyone else is wounded, whether the armoured car’s machine gun is fully functional throughout the engagement, who moves Collins’ body, and who is nearby when Collins falls.

Many questions have been raised concerning the handling of Collins’s remains immediately following his death. Among them are the inordinately long time the convoy takes to cover the twenty miles back to Cork City, who searched his clothes, and what became of documents he is known to have been carrying on his person.

Collins’s body is transported by sea from Cork to Dublin. He lay in state for three days in Dublin City Hall where tens of thousands of mourners file past his coffin to pay their respects, including many British soldiers departing Ireland who had fought against him. His funeral mass takes place at Dublin’s Pro Cathedral where a number of foreign and Irish dignitaries are in attendance. Some 500,000 people attend his funeral, almost one fifth of the country’s population at that time.

No official inquiry is ever undertaken into Collins’s death and consequently there is no official version of what happened, nor are there any authoritative, detailed contemporary records.

An annual commemoration ceremony takes place each year in August at the ambush site at Béal na Bláth, County Cork, organised by The Béal na mBláth Commemoration Committee. There is also a remembrance ceremony in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery at Collins’s grave on the anniversary of his death.