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


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The Limerick Soviet

The Limerick Soviet exists for a two-week period from April 15 to April 27, 1919, and is one of a number of self-declared Irish soviets that are formed around Ireland between 1919 and 1923. At the beginning of the Irish War of Independence, a general strike is organised by the Limerick Trades and Labour Council, as a protest against the British Army‘s declaration of a “Special Military Area” under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914, which covers most of Limerick city and a part of the county. The soviet runs the city for the period, prints its own money and organises the supply of food.

From January 1919 the Irish War of Independence develops as a guerrilla conflict between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) (backed by Sinn Féin‘s Dáil Éireann), and the British government. On April 6, 1919 the IRA tries to liberate Robert Byrne, who is under arrest by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in a hospital, being treated for the effects of a hunger strike. In the rescue attempt Constable Martin O’Brien is fatally wounded and another policeman is seriously injured. Byrne is also wounded and dies later the same day.

In response, on April 9 British Army Brigadier Griffin declares the city to be a Special Military Area, with RIC permits required for all wanting to enter and leave the city as of Monday, April 14. British Army troops and armoured vehicles are deployed in the city.

On Friday, April 11 a meeting of the United Trades and Labour Council, to which Byrne had been a delegate, takes place. At that meeting Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) representative Sean Dowling proposes that the trade unions take over Town Hall and have meetings there, but the proposal is not voted on. On Saturday, April 12 the ITGWU workers in the Cleeve’s factory in Lansdowne vote to go on strike. On Sunday, April 13, after a twelve-hour discussion and lobbying of the delegates by workers, a general strike is called by the city’s United Trades and Labour Council. Responsibility for the direction of the strike is devolved to a committee that describes itself as a soviet as of April 14. The committee has the example of the Dublin general strike of 1913 and “soviet” (meaning a self-governing committee) has become a popular term after 1917 from the soviets that had led to the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.

A transatlantic air race is being organised from Bawnmore in County Limerick at the same time, but is cancelled. The assembled journalists from England and the United States take up the story of an Irish soviet and interview the organisers. The Trades Council chairman John Cronin is described as the “father of the baby Soviet.” Ruth Russell of the Chicago Tribune remarks on the religiosity of the strike committee, observes “the bells of the nearby St. Munchin’s Church tolled the Angelus and all the red-badged guards rose and blessed themselves.” The Sinn Féin Mayor of Limerick, Phons O’Mara, tells Russell there is no prospect of socialism, as “There can’t be, the people here are Catholics.”

The general strike is extended to a boycott of the troops. A special strike committee organises food and fuel supplies, prints its own money based on the British shilling, and publishes its own newspaper called The Worker’s Bulletin. The businesses of the city accept the strike currency. Cinemas open with the sign “Working under authority of the strike committee” posted. Local newspapers are allowed to publish once a week as long as they have the caption “Published by Permission of the Strike Committee.” Outside Limerick there is some sympathy in Dublin, but not in the main Irish industrial area around Belfast. The National Union of Railwaymen does not help.

On April 21 The Worker’s Bulletin remarks that “A new and perfect system of organisation has been worked out by a clever and gifted mind, and ere long we shall show the world what Irish workers are capable of doing when left to their own resources.” On Easter Monday 1919, the newspaper states “The strike is a worker’s strike and is no more Sinn Féin than any other strike.”

Liam Cahill argues, “The soviet attitude to private property was essentially pragmatic. So long as shopkeepers were willing to act under the soviet’s dictates, there was no practical reason to commandeer their premises.” While the strike is described by some as a revolution, Cahill adds, “In the end the soviet was basically an emotional and spontaneous protest on essentially nationalist and humanitarian grounds, rather than anything based on socialist or even trade union aims.”

After two weeks the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Limerick, Phons O’Mara, and the Catholic bishop Denis Hallinan call for the strike to end, and the Strike Committee issues a proclamation on April 27, 1919 stating that the strike is over.

(Pictured: Photograph of Members of the 1919 Limerick Soviet, April 1919, Limerick City)


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Death of Brinsley MacNamara, Writer & Playwright

John Weldon (alternatively “A. E. Weldon”), Irish writer, playwright, and the registrar of the National Gallery of Ireland, dies in Dublin on February 4, 1963. He adopts the pseudonymBrinsley MacNamara,’ the first name deriving from Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the second from a relative on his mother’s side, and uses it throughout his subsequent career as novelist and playwright.

Weldon is born on September 6, 1890, in Hiskinstown, Delvin, County Westmeath, the eldest son of James Weldon, a schoolteacher, originally of Ballinea, Mullingar, and Fanny Weldon (née Duncan). He attends his father’s school at Delvin until he is eighteen, and the relationship between father and son is to remain rather formal and strict.

Stimulated by the visiting fit-up theatrical companies and of news from Dublin of the Abbey Theatre, in September 1908 he takes the lead in a local staging of a political melodrama, Robert Emmet by Henry C. Mangan. The following summer he leaves for Dublin, ostensibly to become a civil servant but in fact to audition as an actor at the Abbey Theatre. His acting career with the Abbey Theatre begins in September 1910 with a role in R. J. Ryan’s The Casting-out of Martin Whelan.

MacNamara is the author of several novels, the most well-known of which is his first, The Valley of the Squinting Windows (1918), its title a byword for small-town hypocrisy and begrudgery. The work itself is an uneasy fusion of a satiric portrait of gossipy, prying women and dipsomaniacally drinking men with a naturalist tragedy in which the sins of the past repeat themselves in the lives of the younger characters. The novel’s frank treatment of sexual matters is eclipsed as a cause of offence by the unflattering portrayal of almost all the inhabitants of the fictional village called Garradrimna, a place that local people feel would be automatically identified as Delvin. In the ensuing controversy the novelist’s father, James Weldon (widely suspected of being the author), and his school are subject to boycott. His attempts to seek legal redress in 1923 are unsuccessful.

MacNamara continues to write for many years after this controversial first work, and locates most of his later fiction in Garradrimna, in the Irish Midlands. Among his plays are The Glorious Uncertainty (1923) and Look at the Heffernans! (1926). His work is part of the literature event in the art competition at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris.

In 1925 McNamara is appointed registrar to the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, a position he holds until his retirement in 1960. In 1932 he becomes one of the first members of the Irish Academy of Letters, and in 1935 joins the board of directors of the Abbey Theatre.

MacNamara marries Helena Degidon, a schoolteacher, in 1920. His later years are dogged by increasing ill health and he dies at Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital, Dublin, on February 4, 1963.


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Death of Michael Flannery, Irish Republican Founder of NORAID

Michael Flannery, Irish republican who fought in the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, dies in New York City on September 30, 1994. He supports the Provisional Irish Republican Army during The Troubles and is a founder of NORAID.

Flannery is born in Cangort, near Brosna, on the border of County Offaly and County Tipperary, on January 7, 1903.

In 1916 Flannery joins the Irish Volunteers alongside his brother Peter, although he does not take part in the Easter Rising. However, he does participate in the Irish War of Independence. Following the outbreak of the Irish Civil War, he fights as part of the Anti-Treaty IRA until his capture by the National Army on November 11, 1922 in Roscrea, County Tipperary. He is imprisoned for nearly a year and a half in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison (C Wing). While there he witnesses the execution of Anti-Treaty IRA leaders Richard Barrett, Joe McKelvey, Liam Mellows and Rory O’Connor from his cell window. Following a 28-day hunger strike, he is placed in the Curragh Camp until May 1, 1924 when he is finally released, a full year after the end of the civil war.

In February 1927 Flannery immigrates to the United States, settling in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City. In 1928 he marries Margaret Mary Egan, a Tipperary-born research chemist, who had been educated at University College Dublin and University of Geneva.

Following the creation of Fianna Fáil and their entry into the Irish Parliament Dáil Éireann, Flannery becomes affiliated with Sinn Féin, who had voted to retain their abstentionist policy towards the Dáil and their refusal to acknowledge it as the legitimate government of Ireland. Sinn Féin tasks him with drumming up support for the party in New York. However, following the start of the Great Depression he finds it difficult to focus on politics in the face of mounting poverty. By 1933 finding support for Sinn Féin and the IRA becomes particularly tough when Fianna Fáil expands greatly the range of people eligible for military pensions, which under the previous government had been biased against members of the Anti-Treaty IRA. For the next 40 years Flannery works for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

Upon the onset of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, Flannery is once again drawn into the world of Irish Republicanism. In a response to the mounting violence, he sets up the Irish Northern Aid Committee, or as it became better known as, NORAID. The official purpose of NORAID is to provide funds to the families of imprisoned Irish Republicans and victims of violence. However, opponents level the accusation against the organisation that it is also providing funding directly to the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and perhaps even also supplying firearms.

In 1970 Flannery travels around America and sets up 62 chapters of NORAID. In 1971 he says, “The more coffins sent back to Britain, the sooner this will be all over,” referring to British soldiers.

In 1982 Flannery is indicted, with four other members of NORAID, for arms smuggling, but all defendants are acquitted after their legal defence is able to successfully argue their actions had been sanctioned the CIA.

Four months after the verdict of the arms trial, Flannery is named as Grand Marshal of the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City. His appointment causes considerable controversy within the Irish American community and several high profile figures boycott the parade that year, including the Archbishop of New York Terence Cooke.

In 1986 Flannery quietly resigns from NORAID following the decision by Sinn Féin to drop its abstentionist policy in the Republic of Ireland and to recognise Dáil Éireann as the legitimate governing body of Ireland.

Flannery opposes the Northern Ireland peace process, believing that Sinn Féin and the Provisionals have “sold out,” and believes the removal of British troops from Northern Ireland is the only starting point upon which negotiations can begin.

Flannery dies at the age of 92 in New York City on September 30, 1994. He is buried in Mount Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Flushing, Queens, New York.


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Charles Stewart Parnell’s Famous Speech at Ennis

Charles Stewart Parnell delivers his famous speech at Ennis, County Clare, on September 19, 1880, in which he introduces the term for non-violent protest – boycotting.

Parnell is elected president of Michael Davitt‘s newly founded Irish National Land League in Dublin on October 21, 1879, signing a militant Land League address campaigning for land reform. During the summer of 1880, the Land League, goes into decline but its fortunes are transformed when the House of Lords rejects a moderate measure of land reform. The movement is transformed into a national movement as it spreads into Munster and Leinster. As the movement spreads, crime increases especially in the West. Parnell, who had been elected leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in May, is very worried about this violence and hopes that the Land League can deflect tenants away from the traditional violence associated with land agitation. He advocates a policy of “moral force” where tenants are to deny all social or commercial contact with anyone who is believed to oppose the aims of the League.

During his speech at Ennis, Parnell asks his audience, “What are you to do with a tenant who bids for a farm from which another has been evicted?” Several voices reply “Shoot him!” and “Kill him!” Parnell responds, “I wish to point out to you a very much better way, a more Christian and charitable way, which will give the lost man an opportunity of repenting. When a man takes a farm from which another has been evicted, you must shun him on the roadside when you meet him, you must shun him in the streets of the town, you must shun him in the shop, you must shun him on the fair green and in the market place, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him alone, by putting him in moral Coventry, by isolating him from the rest of the country, as if he were the leper of old – you must show him your detestation of the crime he committed.”

This type of “moral Coventry” is used in the cast of Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott, a County Mayo land agent, who is isolated by the local people until his nerve breaks. This leads to a new word entering into the English language – boycotting.


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Death of James Napper Tandy, Irish Revolutionary

James Napper Tandy, Irish revolutionary and member of the Society of United Irishmen, dies in Bordeaux, France on August 24, 1803.

A Dublin Protestant and the son of an ironmonger, Tandy is baptised in St. Audoen’s Church on February 16, 1739. He attends the Quaker boarding school in Ballitore, County Kildare. He starts life as a small tradesman. Turning to politics, he becomes a member of Dublin Corporation and is popular for his denunciation of municipal corruption and his proposal of a boycott of English goods in Ireland in retaliation for the restrictions imposed by the government on Irish commerce.

Tandy and John Binns persuade Dublin Corporation to condemn by resolution William Pitt the Younger‘s amended commercial resolutions in 1785. He becomes a member of the Whig club founded by Henry Grattan, and he actively co-operates with Theobald Wolfe Tone in founding the Society of United Irishmen in 1791, of which he becomes the first secretary.

Sympathy with the French Revolution is rapidly spreading in Ireland. A meeting of some 6,000 people in Belfast vote a congratulatory address to the French nation in July 1791. In the following year, Tandy takes a leading part in organising a new military association in Ireland modelled after the French National Guard. Tandy also, with the purpose of bringing about a fusion between the Defenders and the United Irishmen, took the oath of the Defenders, a Roman Catholic society whose agrarian and political violence had been increasing for several years.

Tandy is about to be tried in 1793 for distributing a seditious pamphlet in County Louth when the government discovers he has taken the oath of the Defenders. Being threatened with prosecution for this step, and also for libel, he takes refuge by changing his Dublin address often until he flees to the United States in 1795, where he remains until 1798. In February 1798 he goes to Paris, where a number of Irish refugees are assembled and planning rebellion in Ireland to be supported by a French invasion, but quarrelling among themselves over tactics.

Tandy accepts the offer of a corvette, the HMS Anacreon, from the French government and sails from Dunkirk accompanied by a few United Irishmen, a small force of men and a considerable quantity of arms and ammunition for distribution in Ireland. He arrives at the isle of Arranmore, off the coast of County Donegal, on September 16, 1798.

Tandy takes possession of the village of Rutland, where he hoists an Irish flag and issues a proclamation. He soon discovers that the French expedition of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert to aid the Irish rebellion has failed. He sails his vessel around the north of Scotland to avoid the British fleet. He reaches Bergen in safety having brought with him a British ship captured along the way. Tandy then made his way with three or four companions to the free port of Hamburg but a peremptory demand from the British government to detain the fugitives was acceded to despite a counter-threat from the French Directory. In 1799 HMS Xenophon, under Commander George Sayer, brings Tandy and some of his associates back to England as state prisoners.

On February 12, 1800, Tandy is put on trial at Dublin and is acquitted. He remains in prison in Lifford Gaol in County Donegal until April 1801, when he is tried for the treasonable landing on Rutland Island. He pleads guilty and is sentenced to death although he is reprieved and allowed to go to France.

In France, where his release is regarded as a French diplomatic victory, he is received, in March 1802, as a person of distinction. When he dies on August 24, 1803 in Bordeaux, his funeral is attended by the military and an immense number of civilians. James Napper Tandy is buried in his family’s burial crypt, St. Mary’s churchyard, Julianstown, County Meath. His fame is perpetuated in the Irish ballad The Wearing of the Green.


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Founding of the Irish National Land League

land-league-posterThe Irish National Land League, one of the most important political organizations in Irish history which seeks to help poor tenant farmers, is founded at the Imperial Hotel in Castlebar, County Mayo, on October 21, 1879. Its primary aim is to abolish landlordism in Ireland and enable tenant farmers to own the land they work on. The national organization is modeled on the Land League of Mayo, which Michael Davitt had helped found earlier in the year.

At the founding meeting Charles Stewart Parnell is elected president of the league. Davitt, Andrew Kettle, and Thomas Brennan are appointed as honorary secretaries. This unites practically all the different strands of land agitation and tenant rights movements under a single organisation.

Parnell, Davitt, John Dillon, and others including Cal Lynn then go to the United States to raise funds for the League with spectacular results. Branches are also set up in Scotland, where the Crofters Party imitates the League and secures a reforming Act in 1886.

The government introduces the Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Act 1870, which proves largely ineffective. It is followed by the marginally more effective Land Acts of 1880 and 1881. These establish a Land Commission that starts to reduce some rents. Parnell together with all of his party lieutenants including Father Eugene Sheehy, known as “the Land League priest,” go into a bitter verbal offensive and are imprisoned in October 1881 under the Protection of Person and Property Act 1881 in Kilmainham Gaol for “sabotaging the Land Act.” It is from here that the No-Rent Manifesto is issued, calling for a national tenant farmer rent strike until “constitutional liberties” are restored and the prisoners freed. It has a modest success In Ireland, and mobilizes financial and political support from the Irish Diaspora.

Although the League discourages violence, agrarian crimes increase widely. Typically a rent strike is followed by eviction by the police and the bailiffs. Tenants who continue to pay the rent can be subject to a boycott by local League members. Where cases go to court, witnesses would change their stories, resulting in an unworkable legal system. This in turn leads on to stronger criminal laws being passed that are described by the League as “Coercion Acts.”

The bitterness that develops helps Parnell later in his Home Rule campaign. Davitt’s views as seen in his famous slogan: “The land of Ireland for the people of Ireland” is aimed at strengthening the hold on the land by the peasant Irish at the expense of the alien landowners. Parnell aims to harness the emotive element, but he and his party are strictly constitutional. He envisions tenant farmers as potential freeholders of the land they have rented.