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


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Birth of Mike Quill, Irish-American Trade Unionist

Michael Joseph “Red Mike” Quill, one of the founders of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), a union founded by subway workers in New York City that expands to represent employees in other forms of transit, is born on September 18, 1905, in Gortloughera, near Kilgarvan, County Kerry.

Quill is the seventh among five sons and three daughters of John Daniel Quill, farmer, of Gortloughera, and Margaret Quill (née Lynch), of Ballyvourney, County Cork. He attends Kilgarvan national school until early adolescence. The family has strong republican sympathies and he serves with an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column during the Irish Civil War.

In 1926, Quill emigrates to New York City. After a series of brief jobs, in 1929 he secures employment with the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) as a subway station change-maker. Attracted to socialism and militant industrial unionism by his reading of James Connolly, in 1933 he is one of a small group of workers seeking to initiate a trade union independent of the IRT’s complacent company union. Comprised largely of ex-IRA men linked by membership of Clan na Gael and the leftist Irish Workers’ Clubs, his group soon joins forces with a New York transit-industry organising effort by the Communist Party, resulting in the launch in April 1934 of the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

With a convivial personality and a flair for oratory, Quill quickly emerges as one of the union’s most effective organisers. During 1935 he leaves his IRT job to work full-time as union organiser. In December 1935 he is elected TWU president, a position he holds until his death. By autumn 1936 the TWU has established a solid base on the IRT, and intensifies organisation on New York’s other transit lines: subways, buses, elevated trains, and trolleys. In May 1937 the TWU affiliates with the incipient Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). After winning, mostly by large majorities, a series of union representation elections in May–June 1937, the TWU negotiates closed-shop contracts with various New York transit companies, obtaining for its 30,000 members substantial wage increases and benefits and a work-week reduction to forty-eight hours. The ethnic profile of the TWU, which is colloquially nicknamed “the Irish union,” reflects that of New York’s transit workforce, about half of which is Irish-born.

First elected to the New York City Council in November 1937 as candidate of the American Labor Party, Quill serves on the body intermittently until 1949. After 1940 he leads the TWU into expansion outside New York, organising in mass transit in other cities, in airlines, and in railroads. Despite modest membership numbers (135,000 by the mid-1960s), the TWU is the United States‘ largest transit union, and Quill maintains a high public profile, owing to his union’s situation in a key economic sector, its base in the country’s largest city, and the colourful and the controversial features of his personality and politics. The 1940 municipal buy-out of New York’s private subway companies and subsequent evolution of a unified civically operated transport system precipitates a lengthy TWU struggle to establish collective bargaining rights and procedures for the transport workforce as public employees. This campaign, by setting precedents for public-sector union organisation nation-wide, marks Quill’s most enduring legacy to the American labour movement.

Quill denies repeated charges that he is a Communist, while retorting that he would “rather be called a Red by the rats than a rat by the Reds.” Communists hold influential positions at all levels in the TWU until the union’s December 1948 convention, when, after months of rancorous conflict over policy, he secures the expulsion from union office of all Communist Party members. His own politics, nevertheless, remain conspicuously leftist in the America of the 1950s and 1960s, as he condemns both the McCarthyite anti-Red witch-hunt and the Vietnam War. Elected a CIO vice-president in 1950, he eschews redefinition as “a labour statesman,” and advocates a national labour party and nationalisation of major industries. A strenuous opponent of racial discrimination by employers and within trade-union structures, he actively supports the black civil rights movement. He is the only top CIO official to oppose its 1955 merger with the conservative, craft-dominated American Federation of Labor (AFL), which he accuses of “the three Rs” of raiding, racketeering, and racism.

Quill’s final battle is his most dramatic. On January 1, 1966 he defies public-sector anti-strike legislation and a court injunction and leads TWU Local 100 into the first total subway-and-bus strike in New York City history, paralysing traffic for twelve days. Arrested on January 4, Quill, who has a history of serious heart disease, collapses during admission to prison and is transferred to hospital under police custody. On January 13 the strike is settled with a 15 percent wage increase, the highest of Quill’s TWU presidency. On January 28, several days after discharge from hospital, he dies of heart failure in his home. He is interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York, after a funeral Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, his casket draped by the Irish tricolor.

Speaking after his death, Martin Luther King Jr. eulogises Quill with the following: “Mike Quill was a fighter for decent things all his life—Irish independence, labor organization, and racial equality. He spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow-man. When the totality of a man’s life is consumed with enriching the lives of others, this is a man the ages will remember—this is a man who has passed on but who has not died. Negroes had desperately needed men like Mike Quill who fearlessly said what was true even when it offended. That is why Negroes shall miss Mike Quill.”

Quill marries Maria Theresa O’Neill of Cahersiveen, County Kerry, in 1937. They have one son. Maria dies in 1959. He then marries Shirley Garry (née Uzin) of Brooklyn, New York, his long-serving administrative assistant, in 1961. They have no children. The Michael J. Quill Centre at Ardtully, Kilgarvan, County Kerry, houses a commemorative museum.

(From: “Quill, Michael Joseph” by Lawrence William White, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie | Pictured: Irish-American Trade Unionist Mike Quill during a visit to the White House in 1938)


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Death of Fionán Lynch, Revolutionary, Barrister, Politician & Judge

Fionán (Finian) Lynch, Irish revolutionary, barrister, politician and judge, dies on June 3, 1966 in Dartry, a small suburb of Dublin.

Lynch is born on March 17, 1889 in Cahersiveen, County Kerry, the fourth son of Finian Lynch of Kilmakerin, Cahersiveen, a national teacher, and Ellen Maria Lynch (née McCarthy). Educated at St. Brendan’s College, Killarney, Rockwell College, County Tipperary, and Blackrock College, Dublin. He has plans to study medicine, but in 1907, when he is 18 years old, his father dies and he does not have the money to pursue this career path. He becomes a teacher in Swansea, south Wales, where he forms a branch of the Gaelic League and teaches the Irish language.

Lynch returns to Ireland in 1909, where he starts training as a teacher in St Patrick’s College, Dublin. He graduates in 1911 as a primary school teacher. In April 1912 he begins working as a national schoolteacher at St. Michan’s School, Dublin, becomes an active member of the Keating branch of the Gaelic League, and is recruited into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) by Seán Mac Diarmada. He also joins the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and becomes captain of F Company, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade. With Piaras Béaslaí he founds Na hAisteoirí, a drama company dedicated to the production of plays in Irish, with many of its members fighting during the 1916 Easter Rising. In the months before the rising Lynch temporarily stands down from the Volunteers after his school manager tells him he will be sacked if he does not. Learning that a rising was imminent, he rejoins the Volunteers, and over the Easter weekend commands the detachment that guards Bulmer Hobson to prevent him from interfering with Volunteer mobilisation. During the rising he is involved in heavy fighting in the North King Street area and is subsequently imprisoned.

Held at Lewes Prison, Lynch is released under the general amnesty. In August 1916 he is reimprisoned for making an inflammatory speech, and in September leads the Mountjoy Prison hunger strike with Austin Stack and Thomas Ashe. He is released in November following a further hunger strike at Dundalk prison. He is imprisoned again in May 1918 on the same charge during the ‘German Plot’ allegations and is released in August 1919, after which he helps to plan the escape of other prisoners.

Elected a Sinn Féin TD for South Kerry in December 1918 and for Kerry–Limerick West in May 1921, Lynch serves as assistant secretary to the Anglo-Irish Treaty delegation in London (October–December 1921), where he is largely responsible for organising the living arrangements at the two Irish headquarters. A supporter of the treaty, he addresses Pro-Treaty rallies with Michael Collins, and from January to August 1922 is Minister for Education with the Provisional Government, at the same time as Michael Hayes is Minister for Education for Dáil Éireann. Possible conflict is avoided by the pragmatic division of duties, under which Hayes takes responsibility for intermediate and higher education, and Lynch for primary education. It is also left to Lynch to clarify the relationship between the new Provisional Government and the board of commissioners of intermediate education, which is not abolished until 1923. These developments, however, are overshadowed by the beginning of the Irish Civil War, where military considerations take precedence over civic responsibilities.

Required to serve in the army, in July 1922 Lynch is appointed a vice-commandant of the south-western division with the rank of commandant-general, commanding a unit of Dublin soldiers in County Kerry, where on occasion he has to endure being ambushed, leading a fellow commandant to note ironically that his constituents do not seem to think much of him. However, the reluctance of former colleagues to attack him possibly ensure his survival during the war. Frank Henderson of Dublin’s No. 1 brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) tells Ernie O’Malley of his reluctance to become involved in reprisal shootings after Free State executions, commenting, “I didn’t like that order. I could have shot Eamonn Duggan and Fionán Lynch, for they went home every night drunk, but I left them alone.”

After the Irish Civil War Lynch is elected a Cumann na nGaedheal TD for Kerry, a seat he holds until 1937, after which he represents the constituency of Kerry South (1937–44). He serves as Minister for Fisheries (1922–28) and Minister for Lands and Fisheries (1928–32), and retains his interest in education. He supports the Irish National Teachers Organisation policy on the Irish language during the 1920s, commenting that he is entirely opposed to attempting to teach subjects through Irish where Irish is not the known language.

In 1931 Lynch qualifies as a barrister. After Fianna Fáil comes to power and during the rise of the Blueshirts he speaks at public meetings with Eoin O’Duffy, and they are attacked by a crowd in Tralee in October 1933. After the fall of O’Duffy and the reorganisation of Fine Gael, W. T. Cosgrave appoints a front bench designed to represent the various groups in the party, which witness former ministers, including Desmond FitzGerald, Patrick Hogan, and Lynch, relegated to the back benches. Lynch serves as Leas-Cheann Comhairle of the Dáil (1938–39). Having built up a legal practice, he retires from politics in October 1944 and is subsequently appointed a circuit court judge in the north-west district, retiring from the bench in 1959.

Lynch dies suddenly at his home in Dartry, County Dublin, on June 3, 1966, shortly after celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. He is survived by his wife Brighid (née Slattery), a native of Tralee, and by their five sons and one daughter. His papers are on permanent loan to Kerry County Library archives.

(From: “Lynch, Fionán (Finian)” by Diarmaid Ferriter, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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The Bahaghs Incident

During the Irish Civil War, five prisoners from Irish Republican Army (IRA) Kerry No. 3 Brigade are killed at Bahaghs, near Cahersiveen, County Kerry, on March 12, 1923. They are taken from a National Army post in the town at gunpoint by Dublin Guard officers under protest from the garrison.

The government and military consistently claim the men died while clearing a land mine although it is generally believed, especially in Republican circles, that the five men were victims of an horrific war crime which saw them shot and strapped to a mine by an Irish Free State death squad.

The victims of the shocking and notorious incident are Michael Courtney Jnr, Eugene Dwyer, Daniel Shea, John Sugrue and William Riordan, all from the Waterville area. The five men are held by Free State troops at Bahaghs workhouse, then in use as a temporary detention centre, following their arrest for irregular activities several days earlier.

In the early hours of March 12 members of the Free State’s Dublin Guard, who had been tasked with defeating irregular forces in Kerry and who had earned a notorious reputation for brutality in the process, arrive at the workhouse and select five of the twenty men in custody there. The five are then brought to an irregular roadblock several miles away where the IRA men are, allegedly, shot in the legs before being laid over a land mine which is detonated by the Free state troops blowing the five men to pieces.

The Bahaghs killings are part of a series of deaths which begin with another horrific incident on March 6, 1923 in which five soldiers are killed by a booby trap bomb at the village of Knocknagoshel. Immediately after the Knocknagoshel incident the Free State commander for Kerry, Maj. Gen. Paddy O’Daly, previously head of Michael Collin‘s Dublin assassination squad, authorises the use of republican prisoners to clear mined roads, as “the only alternative left us to prevent the wholesale slaughter of our men.” Two separate incidents occur the following day in which thirteen additional Republican prisoners are killed by land mines.

When questioned in the Dáil by Labour Party leader Thomas Johnson, the National Army’s commander-in-chief, Gen. Richard Mulcahy, says he accepts the findings of a military court of inquiry which exonerates the troops of all wrongdoing in any of the incidents.

In recent years, previously confidential state papers have been released which shed new light on one of Kerry’s most terrible episodes. The evidence in the file sharply contradicts the official line on the killings and paints a damning portrait of Free State army brutality and subsequent government efforts to cover up three massacres perpetrated by its troops in Kerry.

Further documents prove that a top official in the Ministry of Home Affairs utterly dismissed the findings of a military inquiry into the killings but the cabinet of the day took no action and rejected all claims for compensation by relatives.

Nothing has ever been done in relation to the three Kerry massacres after the executive council decision and, to this day, the true events of Bahaghs, Countess Bridge and, most famously, Ballyseedy have never been revealed.

(Pictured: Irish Republican Army Brigade in County Kerry)


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Birth of Gaelic Footballer Mick O’Connell

Michael “Mick” O’Connell, retired Gaelic footballer, is born on Valentia Island, County Kerry, on January 4, 1937. His league and championship career with the Kerry senior team spans nineteen seasons from 1956 to 1974. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the game.

O’Connell is raised in a family that has no real link to Gaelic football. His father is a fisherman who also works on the family’s small farm on the island. From an early age O’Connell shows his footballing talent and “inimitable signs of excellence.” He excels at the game in his youth and also at Cahersiveen CBS.

O’Connell begins his club football career with neighbouring Waterville. When a football club, Valentia Young Islanders, is founded on Valentia Island, as per GAA rules he switches allegiance to his local parish team. He wins three Kerry Senior Football Championship medals with the South Kerry divisional side.

O’Connell’s career with Kerry begins in 1955 when he lines out in the Munster Minor Championship. Kerry loses the replayed Munster final to Tipperary.

O’Connell quickly joins the Kerry senior football team, making his debut in 1956 against Tipperary in the Munster Championship. He later lines out in the Munster final against Cork, but loses out in a replay. In 1958 he wins the first of eight consecutive Munster Senior Football Championship titles, however, Kerry suffers a shocking defeat by Derry in the All-Ireland semi-final. In 1959 he is captain when Kerry wins the National Football League. He later guides his native-county to another Munster title, however, he has to retire due to injury in Kerry’s All-Ireland victory over Galway.

Following a second National League victory in 1961, O’Connell captures his second All-Ireland medal in 1962 when Kerry defeats Roscommon in the final. A third National League victory quickly follows at the start of 1963. After two All-Ireland defeats by Galway in 1964 and 1965 Kerry surrenders their provincial crown to Cork in 1966 and 1967. He wins a ninth Munster title in 1968, however, Kerry loses out to Down in the All-Ireland final. This defeat is followed by a great year of success in 1969 as he adds a fourth National League medal to his collection before winning a tenth Munster title. He later wins a third All-Ireland medal following a victory over Offaly.

In 1970 O’Connell enters the third decade of his inter-county football career, winning an eleventh Munster title in the process. A fourth All-Ireland medal quickly follows after a victory over Meath in the first 80-minute All-Ireland final. He claims two more National league medals in 1971 and 1972, before winning his twelfth and final provincial medal in 1972. That year Offaly later defeats Kerry in O’Connell’s last All-Ireland final appearance. In spite of this loss he is still presented with an GAA GPA All Star award. He retires from inter-county football in 1973.

In 1972 O’Connell marries his wife Rosaleen. They have three children, Máire, Mícheál and Diarmuid. Mícheál marries Emma, daughter of then President of Ireland Mary McAleese in December 2009.

In retirement from playing O’Connell publishes his autobiography, A Kerry Footballer, in 1974. Ten years later in 1984, the GAA’s centenary year, his reputation as one of the all-time greats is recognised when he is named in the midfield position on the GAA Football Team of the Century. In 2000 he is also named on the associations Football Team of the Millennium.


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Birth of the Liberator, Daniel O’Connell

daniel-oconnellDaniel O’Connell, Irish political leader often referred to as The Liberator or The Emancipator, is born on August 6, 1775, at Carhan near Cahersiveen, County Kerry, to the O’Connells of Derrynane, a once-wealthy Roman Catholic family, that has been dispossessed of its lands.

Raised by his uncle, Daniel learns the Irish language and Irish lore in Kerry. O’Connell does part of his schooling in France during the revolution. On May 19, 1798, O’Connell is called to the Irish Bar and becomes a barrister. Four days later, the United Irishmen stage their rebellion which is put down by the British with great bloodshed. O’Connell does not support the rebellion. He believes that the Irish need to assert themselves politically rather than by force. The violent excesses he witnesses in France, the slaughter of the 1798 Rising, and finally his own killing of a man in a duel in 1815 leads him to renounce violence forever.

Moving into politics, O’Connell founds the Catholic Association in 1823, creating one of the first massive political movements in Europe or the Americas. The Catholic Association embraces other aims to better Irish Catholics, such as electoral reform, reform of the Church of Ireland, tenants’ rights, and economic development.

When he is elected to Parliament in 1828, he is unable to take his seat as members of parliament have to take the Oath of Supremacy, which is incompatible with Catholicism.  Fear of the reaction of his millions of followers leads to the passage of the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829. O’Connell works for Home Rule for Ireland for the rest of his days but never achieves it. The British ban his mass Repeal of the Union rallies in 1843 and jail him for a time. The movement loses momentum at that point and the long years of hard work wear “The Liberator” down.

O’Connell dies at the age of 71 of cerebral softening on May15, 1847, in Genoa, Italy, while on a pilgrimage to Rome. His time in prison seriously weakens him and the appallingly cold weather he has to endure on his journey is likely the final blow. According to his dying wish, his heart is buried in Rome at Sant’Agata dei Goti, then the chapel of the Irish College, and the remainder of his body in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, beneath a round tower.