seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of George McWhirter, Writer, Teacher & Vancouver’s First Poet Laureate

George McWhirter, Irish-Canadian writer, translator, editor, teacher and Vancouver‘s first Poet Laureate, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on September 26, 1939.

The son of a shipyard worker, McWhirter is raised in a large extended family on the Shankill Road in Belfast. He and his extended family spend the war years and then weekends and the summers at their seaside bungalow in Carnalea, now a suburb of Bangor, County Down. In 1957 he begins a “combined scholarship” studying English and Spanish at Queen’s University Belfast, and education at Stranmillis University College, Belfast. His tutor at Queen’s is the poet Laurence Lerner, and he is a classmate with the future literary critic Robert Dunbar and the poets Seamus Heaney and Seamus Deane.

After graduating, McWhirter teaches in Kilkeel and Bangor, County Down, and in Barcelona, Spain, before moving to Port Alberni, British Columbia, Canada. After receiving his M.A. from the University of British Columbia (UBC), where he studies under Michael Bullock and J. Michael Yates, he stays on to become a full professor in 1982 and head of the Creative Writing Department from 1983 to 1993. He retires as a Professor Emeritus in 2005.

McWhirter is associated with PRISM International magazine from 1968 to 2005. He is the author and editor of numerous books and the recipient of many awards. His first book of poetry, Catalan Poems, is a joint winner of the first Commonwealth Poetry Prize with Chinua Achebe‘s Beware, Soul Brother. He is made a life member of the League of Canadian Poets in 2005 and is also a member of the Writers’ Union of Canada and PEN International. In March 2007, he is named Vancouver’s inaugural Poet Laureate for a two-year term.

McWhirter currently writes full-time and lives in Vancouver with his wife. They have two children and three grandchildren.


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Baptism of Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, Union Organizer & Activist

Mary G. Harris Jones, known as Mother Jones, an Irish-born American schoolteacher and dressmaker who becomes a prominent union organiser, community organiser, and activist, is baptised on August 1, 1837, in Cork, County Cork. Her exact date of birth is uncertain. She is once deemed “the most dangerous woman in America” because of her union activities.

Jones is the daughter of Richard Harris, a Roman Catholic tenant farmer and railway labourer, and Ellen (née Cotter) Harris. She and her family are victims of the Great Famine, as are many other Irish families of the time. The famine forces more than a million families, including the Harrises, to immigrate to North America when she is ten years old. She lives in the United States and Canada, where she attends and later teaches in a Roman Catholic normal school in Toronto. In the United States she teaches in a convent school in Monroe, Michigan and works as a seamstress. In 1861 she marries George Jones, an iron-moulder and labour union member in Memphis, Tennessee. After the death of her husband and their four children in a yellow fever epidemic in 1867, she relocates to Chicago, Illinois, where she becomes involved with an early industrial union, the Knights of Labor. Her seamstress shop is destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

In the 1890s Jones becomes known as ‘Mother’ Jones and begins a long association with socialist causes and the United Mine Workers of America. She attends the founding convention of Social Democracy of America, later known as the Cooperative Brotherhood, in 1897 and in the same year organises support and publicity for striking bituminous coal miners in West Virginia, including a children’s march and parades of farmers delivering food to the miners’ camp. These types of defiant mass action become her trademark. Notable activities include organising women in support of an 1899 anthracite coal strike in eastern Pennsylvania, directing strikes of young women working in textile mills, a 1903 ‘children’s crusade’ against child labour which includes a ninety-mile march from Philadelphia to New York City, participating in 1905 in the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical labour union committed to the organisation of unskilled workers, campaigning for the release of Mexican revolutionaries imprisoned in American jails, and testifying in 1915 in congressional hearings against the abuse of corporate power by Rockefeller interests.

Jones reportedly meets with James Connolly, Irish socialist and labour organiser, in New York City in 1910. She is arrested for the first time for violating a federal injunction during a miners’ strike in West Virginia in 1902. In 1904, during a Colorado miners’ campaign, she has to avoid the authorities to escape possible deportation. During a 1914 strike in Ludlow, Colorado, she is imprisoned without trial for nine weeks. In 1919 she is arrested in Pennsylvania during a steelworkers’ strike for defending freedom of speech and the right of workers to organise unions. She remains active in the labour movement and radical causes into her nineties.

During her later years, Jones lives with her friends Walter and Lillie May Burgess on their farm in what is now Adelphi, Maryland. She celebrates her self-proclaimed 100th birthday there on May 1, 1930 and is filmed making a statement for a newsreel.

Jones dies on November 30, 1930 at the Burgess farm then in Silver Spring, Maryland, though now part of Adelphi. There is a funeral Mass at St. Gabriel’s in Washington, D.C. She is buried in the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois, alongside miners who died in the 1898 Battle of Virden.

In 1932, about 15,000 Illinois mine workers gather in Mount Olive to protest against the United Mine Workers, which soon becomes the Progressive Mine Workers of America. Convinced that they have acted in the spirit of Mother Jones, the miners decide to place a proper headstone on her grave. By 1936, the miners have saved up more than $16,000 and are able to purchase “eighty tons of Minnesota pink granite, with bronze statues of two miners flanking a twenty-foot shaft featuring a bas-relief of Mother Jones at its center.” On October 11, 1936, also known as Miners’ Day, an estimated 50,000 people arrive at Mother Jones’s grave to see the new gravestone and memorial. Since then, October 11 is not only known as Miners’ Day but is also referred to and celebrated in Mount Olive as “Mother Jones’s Day.”

The farm where she died begins to advertise itself as the “Mother Jones Rest Home” in 1932, before being sold to a Baptist church in 1956. The site is now marked with a Maryland Historical Trust marker, and a nearby elementary school is named in her honor.


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Bridie Gallagher’s “The Boys From The County Armagh” Tops the Irish Charts

Bridget “Bridie” Gallagher, Irish singer affectionately known as “The Girl from Donegal,” reaches No. 1 in the Irish Singles Chart with “The Boys From The County Armagh” on July 2, 1957. She is widely regarded as “Ireland’s first international pop star.”

Gallagher is born on September 7, 1924 in Creeslough, County Donegal. She starts her singing in the Creeslough Hall with a local Céilí band started by Bill Gallagher. The Creeslough Hall is owned by Jim McCaffrey and Bridie makes many more visits to the Creeslough Hall in her home town throughout her long and successful career. Her talent is soon spotted in the 1950s by Billy Livingstone who is a talent scout for Decca Records. She goes to Belfast, which becomes her base, where she marries Robert (Bob) Livingstone (no relation to Billy Livingstone) and has two boys, Jim and Peter. Peter dies in a motor accident in 1976 and Jim later goes on to tour with her.

Gallagher shoots to fame in 1956 with her recording of “A Mother’s Love’s A Blessing” and achieves international acclaim with her legendary rendition of “The Boys From County Armagh.” During her career, which spans over six decades, she appears in many leading venues across the globe. She also makes songs such as “The Homes of Donegal” famous.

Gallagher holds the record for the largest number of people in attendance in the Royal Albert Hall in London, with over 7,500 people, a record that is never equaled as it goes on to become an all-seater venue. She becomes world-famous and travels all over the world, United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and is known as “The Girl from Donegal.” She plays in many of the world’s best known theatres, including London’s Royal Albert Hall, Sydney Opera House and Carnegie Hall in New York City. She sings mainly ballads or as they later became known as Country and Irish. One of her best known songs is “The Boys From The County Armagh,” which sells over 250,000 copies, the biggest-selling Irish single at that time.

Bridie also records “Cottage by the Lee,” written by Irish songwriter, Dick Farrelly. Farrelly achieved worldwide fame with his classic song “The Isle of Innisfree“, which is originally a worldwide hit for Bing Crosby and is chosen by movie director John Ford as the main theme music for his film The Quiet Man.

Gallagher lives in Belfast for most of her life. She is honoured by the people of Creeslough on July 10, 2000 with an event to celebrate her career. Members of her family from Creeslough and Donegal attend the event along with her two sisters and their families who travel from Glasgow to be there along with an estimated crowd of 2,500 fans. A plaque paying tribute to her is unveiled. The following day she is honoured by Donegal County Council when they hold a Civic Reception for her. “Bridie blazed the trail for many artists who followed after her and I’m sure that many of them looked upon her as a role model as they started their careers in the music world,” council chairman Charlie Bennett says at the ceremony.

Gallagher dies at her home in Belfast on January 9, 2012 at the age of 87. Her burial takes place in her native Creeslough.


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The Fenian Invasion of Canada

On June 1, 1866, a group of Fenian soldiers cross the border from the United States into Canadian territory. The events of the so-called Fenian invasion of Canada leave the organisation utterly discredited and cause much dismay among Irish American communities.

The roots of the invasion go back to 1865 when the Fenians in the United States break into two factions, one headed by William Roberts and the other by John O’Mahony, a founding member of the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States. It is the Roberts wing which proposes a Fenian invasion of Canada. A number of facts are put forward by Roberts and others in support of this plan. In 1865 there are tens of thousands of battle-hardened Irish veterans of the American Civil War, as well as many officers from both the Union and Confederate armies. It is initially proposed to utilise these soldiers for an incursion into Canada that would be timed to coincide with a revolution in Ireland, thus causing Great Britain to be engaged in two widely separated theatres of war.

When it becomes apparent that the hoped-for rising in Ireland is not going to take place, the goal of the invasion is changed. The Fenians now hope that they can engineer a border incident that will entangle British forces in a war with the United States.

At the time the U.S. Government has a fractious relationship with their British counterparts, a remnant of the British Empire‘s partiality towards the Confederacy during the American Civil War. During the war the British Government comes close to granting diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy and British shipyards provide raiding vessels such as the notorious USS Alabama to the South. While this ill-feeling is unlikely to lead to full-scale conflict, the U.S. Government is in no mood to provide any aid to the British in Canada. President Andrew Johnson is aware of the Fenian’s plans but does little to hinder them.

The two competing Fenian factions launch separate operations. In April 1866, the O’Mahony wing attempts to seize Campobello Island near New Brunswick but the Fenian attackers are easily dispersed by U.S. naval forces. The Roberts wing launches its attack on Canada under the command of a civil war veteran, General John Charles O’Neill, on June 1, 1866.

General O’Neill leads a force of over one thousand men into Canadian territory near Fort Erie, Ontario. His invading army has some initial success, winning two engagements including the so-called Battle of Ridgeway with around ten fatalities (with a similar number on the Canadian side). O’Neill’s troops keep their discipline and local civilians are respected, as are Canadian prisoners of war. One soldier, Lance Corporal William Ellis, later writes, “the Fenians treatment of myself and the other prisoners was kind and considerate in the extreme.”

Yet, O’Neill is aware that far larger Canadian forces are approaching and on June 3 feels it prudent to take his army back to American territory, while they await reinforcements. However, the U.S. government is now fearful that events are spiralling out of control. Once back across the border, O’Neill’s army is met by American troops who intervene to prevent the Fenians from making any further attacks. Over the following days the Fenian army is broken up by American forces. O’Neill is arrested by U.S. Marshals and temporarily incarcerated. A second, smaller, incursion into Canada follows on June 6 but this, too, makes little headway. This second Fenian army is also broken up by U.S. forces when back on American soil. By June 8 the Fenian invasion of Canada is over.

The whole invasion demonstrates the futility of the Fenian strategy. It proves that the Canadians would fight to preserve their territory and that they could mobilise thousands of their population to do so. There is little hope that the Fenians could muster the required number of troops necessary to seize and then to hold Canadian territory. Most importantly, there could be no doubt now that the U.S. Government would not, despite its tempestuous relationship with the British Empire, offer any support to a Fenian invasion. Nor would the U.S. Government allow itself to be embroiled in a border war with British or Canadian forces. Nevertheless, these lessons are ignored by some Fenians for whom the idea of attacking Canada is a worthwhile objective over the following few years.

In 1870 another convention takes place amid more internal wrangling within the Brotherhood. There, a decision is made to launch a new attack on Canada. Once again John O’Neill commands the Fenians, among whose army is John Boyle O’Reilly, a young journalist. O’Reilly makes detailed reports on the invasion, an event that proves disastrous for Fenianism in the United States.

(From: “The Fenian Invasion Of Canada, 1866” by Ian Kenneally, The Irish Story, http://www.theirishstory.com)


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The Black and Tans Arrive In Ireland

The Black and Tans (Irish: Dúchrónaigh), special constables recruited into the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) as reinforcements during the Irish War of Independence, arrive in Ireland on March 25, 1920. Recruitment begins in Great Britain in January 1920 and about 10,000 men enlist during the conflict. The vast majority are unemployed former British soldiers from Britain who had fought in World War I. Some sources count a small number of Irishmen as Black and Tans.

The British administration in Ireland promotes the idea of bolstering the RIC with British recruits. They are to help the overstretched RIC maintain control and suppress the Irish Republican Army (IRA), although they are less well trained in ordinary policing. The nickname “Black and Tans” arises from the colours of the improvised uniforms they initially wear, a mixture of dark green RIC (which appears black) and khaki British Army. They serve in all parts of Ireland, but most are sent to southern and western regions where fighting is heaviest. By 1921, Black and Tans make up almost half of the RIC in County Tipperary, for example.

Few Black and Tans are sent to what becomes Northern Ireland, however. The authorities there raise their own reserve force, the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC). For the most part, the Black and Tans are “treated as ordinary constables, despite their strange uniforms, and they live and work in barracks alongside the Irish police.” They spend most of their time manning police posts or on patrol—”walking, cycling, or riding on Crossley Tenders.” They also undertake guard, escort and crowd control duties. While some Irish constables get along well with the Black and Tans, “it seems that many Irish police did not like their new British colleagues” and se them as “rough.”

Alexander Will, from Forfar in Scotland, is the first Black and Tan to die in the conflict. He is killed during an IRA attack on the RIC barracks in Rathmore, County Kerry, on July 11, 1920.

The Black and Tans gain a reputation for brutality and become notorious for reprisal attacks on civilians and civilian property, including extrajudicial killings, arson and looting. Their actions further sway Irish public opinion against British rule and draw condemnation in Britain.

The Black and Tans are sometimes confused with the Auxiliary Division, a counterinsurgency unit of the RIC, also recruited during the conflict and made up of former British officers. However, sometimes the term “Black and Tans” covers both groups. Some sources say the Black and Tans are officially named the “RIC Special Reserve,” but this is denied by other sources, which say they are not a separate force but “recruits to the regular RIC” and “enlisted as regular constabulary.”

More than a third leave the service before they are disbanded along with the rest of the RIC in 1922, an extremely high wastage rate, and well over half receive government pensions. Over 500 members of the RIC died in the conflict and more than 600 are wounded. Some sources state that 525 police are killed in the conflict, including 152 Black and Tans and 44 Auxiliaries. This figure of total police killed also includes 72 members of the Ulster Special Constabulary killed between 1920 and 1922 and 12 members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

Many Black and Tans are left unemployed after the RIC is disbanded and about 3,000 are in need of financial assistance after their employment in Ireland is terminated. About 250 Black and Tans and Auxiliaries, among over 1,300 former RIC personnel, join the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Another 700 joined the Palestine Police Force which is led by former British Chief of Police in Ireland, Henry Hugh Tudor. Others are resettled in Canada or elsewhere by the RIC Resettlement branch. Those who return to civilian life sometimes have problems re-integrating. At least two former Black and Tans are hanged for murder in Britain and another, Scott Cullen, wanted for murder, commits suicide before the police can arrest him.

(Pictured: Sir Hamar Greenwood inspects a group of Black and Tans in 1921)


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Birth of Anne Butler Yeats, Painter and Costume and Stage Designer

Anne Butler Yeats, Irish painter, costume and stage designer, is born in Dublin on February 26, 1919.

Yeats is the daughter of the poet William Butler Yeats and Georgie Hyde-Lees, a niece of the painter Jack B. Yeats, and of Lily Yeats and of Elizabeth Corbet Yeats. Her birth is commemorated by her father with the poem A Prayer for My Daughter. Her aunts are associated with the arts and crafts movement in Ireland and are associated with the Dun Emer Press, Cuala Press, and Dun Emer industries. Her brother Michael Yeats is a politician. She is known as “feathers” by her family.

Yeats spends her first three years between Ballylee, County Galway, and Oxford before her family moves to 82 Merrion Square, Dublin in 1922. She is very sick as a child and spends three years in two different hospitals, St. Margaret’s Hall, 50 Mespil Road, and Nightingale Hall, Morehampton Road, Dublin. She then goes to the Pension Henriette, a boarding school in Villars-sur-Bex, Switzerland from 1928–30. In 1923 her Aunt Elizabeth “Lolly” gives her brush drawing lessons which aid her in winning first prize in the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) National Art competition for children under eight years old in 1925 and 1926.

Yeats trains in the Royal Hibernian Academy school from 1933 to 1936, and works as a stage designer with the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. In 1936, at the age of 16, she is hired by the Abbey Theatre as assistant to Tanya Moiseiwitsch. She studies for four months at the School of Theatrical Design in Paris with Paul Colin in 1937. At 18, she begins her costume career on sets with Ria Mooney‘s company. At the Abbey, she designs the sets and costumes for revivals of W.B. Yeats’ plays The Resurrection and On Baile’s Strand (1938).

In 1938 Yeats designs the first production of W.B. Yeats’ play Purgatory. The designs for Purgatory are her most successful achievement. Purgatory is the last play that W.B Yeats sees on stage, and when it is performed it is a full house. When working on Purgatory, Hugh Hunt wants to have a moon on the back cloth of the production but she refuses. “If she does not win, she is going to say that she doesn’t wish to have her name on the programme as a designer of the setting.” This could be the main reason why her name is not on many productions that she worked on. She also designs the first play of her uncle Jack Yeats to receive professional production, Harlequin’s Positions.

In 1939 Yeats is promoted to head of design at the Abbey until her departure in May 1941. In 1939 it is commented that her designs are “getting arty” and not in keeping with style of the Abbey. One of her last designs is her father’s last play, The Death of Cuchulain, for the Lyric Theatre on the Abbey stage in 1949. She designs and stage-manages for the Peacock Theatre, the Cork Opera House, the Olympia Theatre, the Gaiety Theatre, the Lyric Theatre, the Abbey Theatre and the Players Theatre.

Among the work Yeats is credited with in the Abbey Theatre, she also works on five productions in the Peacock Theatre with the Theatre Company: Alarm Among the Clerks (1937), The Phoenix (1937), Harlequin’s Positions (1939), The Wild Cat (1940), and Cavaliero (The Life of a Hawk) (1948).

Yeats chooses to move towards painting full-time beginning a brief study at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1941. She experiments with watercolour and wax. She has a touching naive expressionist style and is interested in representing domestic humanity. She designs many of the covers for the books of Irish language publisher Sáirséal agus Dill over a twenty-year period from 1958. She does illustrations for books by Denis Devlin, Thomas Kinsella and Louis MacNeice, and works with many young designers, such as Louis le Brocquy.

Yeats participates in group exhibitions in the United States, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Monaco, and Scotland, along with the Irish Exhibition of Living Art and Taispeántas an Oireachtas.

Yeats dies at the age of 82 on July 4, 2001 and is buried in Shanganagh Cemetery, south Dublin.

The Royal Hibernian Academy holds a retrospective of her work in 1995, as does the National Gallery of Ireland in 2002. She donates her collection of Jack B. Yeats’ sketch books to the National Gallery of Ireland, leading to the creation of the Yeats Museum within the Gallery. Her brother, Michael, in turn, donates her sketchbooks to the Museum.

(Pictured: “Coole Park,” oil on board by Anne Butler Yeats, Duke Street Gallery, Dublin)


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Birth of John Morrissey, Irish American Politician & Boxing Champion

John Morrissey, Irish American politician, bare-knuckle boxing champion and criminal also known as ‘Old Smoke,’ is born on February 12, 1831 at Templemore, County Tipperary.

Morrissey is the only son among eight children of Timothy Morrissey, factory worker, and Julia (or Mary) Morrissey. In 1834 the family emigrates to Canada and then the United States, settling at Troy, New York. From the age of ten he works, first in a mill, and then as an iron worker due to his size and strength. He becomes involved in various street gangs, developing a reputation as a pugilist of great strength and resolve. As leader of the Down-Town gang, he defeats six members of the rival Up-Town gang in a single afternoon in 1848. He takes work on a Hudson River steamer and marries Sarah Smith, daughter of the ship’s captain, around 1849. They have one child who dies before reaching adulthood.

In a New York saloon Morrissey challenges Charley ‘Dutch’ Duane to a prize fight and, when he is not to be found, with typical bravado he extends the challenge to everyone present. This impresses the owner, Isaiah Rynders, the Tammany Hall politician, and he employs Morrissey to help the Democratic Party, which involves intimidating voters at election time. A fistfight with gang rival Tom McCann earns him the nickname ‘Old Smoke.’ Mid-fight he is forced onto a bed of coals, but despite having his flesh burned, refuses to concede defeat. He fights his way back and beats McCann into unconsciousness. Stowing away to California to challenge other fighters, he begins a gambling house to raise money, and embarks on a privateering expedition to the Queen Charlotte Islands in a quixotic attempt to make his fortune.

In his first professional prize fight on August 21, 1852, Morrissey defeats George Thompson at Mare Island, California, in dubious circumstances, and begins calling himself the ‘champion of America.’ However, it is only on October 12, 1853 that he officially earns this title, when he wins the heavyweight championship of America in a bout at Boston Corner, New York, against Yankee Sullivan. The fight lasts thirty-seven rounds, and Morrissey has the worst of most of them, but he is awarded the contest after a free-for-all in the ring.

Increasingly involved in New York politics, Morrissey and his supporters fight street battles against the rival gang of William Poole, known as ‘Bill the Butcher,’ a Know Nothing politician later fictionalised in the film Gangs of New York (2002). On July 26, 1854 the two men fight on the docks, but Morrissey is beaten badly and forced to surrender. This marks the beginning of a bitter feud between the two parties, with heavy casualties on both sides, which climaxes on March 8, 1855 when Poole is murdered. Morrissey is indicted as a conspirator in the crime, but is soon released because of his political connections.

On October 20, 1858 Morrissey fights John C. Heenan (1835–73) in another heavyweight championship bout. Heenan breaks his hand early in the fight and is always at a disadvantage. After taking much punishment Morrissey finally makes his dominance count. There is a rematch on April 4, 1859, which Morrissey again wins, and after this he retires from the ring. Investing his prize money, he runs two saloons and a gambling house in New York. With the huge profits from his gambling empire he invests in real estate in Saratoga Springs, New York, opening the Saratoga Race Course there in 1863 which has endured to become America’s oldest major sports venue.

A political career beckons as a reward for Morrissey’s consistent support for the Democratic Party. He is elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1866 representing New York’s fifth district, is re-elected the following year, and serves until March 3, 1871. He supports President Andrew Johnson against demands for his impeachment and is skeptical about the Radicals’ plans for reconstruction in the south. In his final years he serves in the New York State Senate (1875–78).

After contracting pneumonia, Morrissey dies at the Adelphi Hotel, Saratoga Springs, on May 1, 1878, and is buried at Saint Peter’s Cemetery, Troy. On the day of his funeral, flags at New York City Hall are lowered to half-mast, while the National Police Gazette declares on May 4, 1878 that “few men of our day have arisen from beginnings so discouraging to a place so high in the general esteem of the community.” His name is included in the list of ‘pioneer’ inductees in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, and each year the John Morrissey Stakes are held at Saratoga Race Course in honour of its founder.

(Pictured: John Morrissey, U.S. Representative from New York, circa 1870s, source Library of Congress)


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Birth of Gearóid O’Sullivan, Soldier & Politician

Gearóid O’Sullivan, soldier and politician, is born on January 28, 1891 at Coolnagrane, near Skibbereen, County Cork, fourth son among six sons and three daughters of Michael O’Sullivan, farmer, of Loughine, and Margaret Sullivan (née McCarthy) of Coolnagrane.

Christened Jeremiah but known in later life as Gearóid, O’Sullivan is an outstanding pupil at national school and secondary school in Skibbereen. Encouraged by his teachers, he acquires a love of the Irish language. Not yet ten, he joins the Gaelic League in Skibbereen in October 1900. He takes part in the Oireachtas debates of 1909. In 1911 he qualifies at St. Patrick’s College, Dublin, as a national school teacher and teaches at Kildorrery, County Cork, but returns to Dublin in 1912 to take up a post at St. Peter’s National School, Phibsborough. He takes an honours degree in Celtic studies at University College Dublin (UCD) (1913), an H.Dip.Ed. (1914), and an M.Ed. (1915). At the same time, he is an organiser and teacher with the Gaelic League, a member of its Keating branch at Parnell Square, Dublin, and a founder of the League’s “fáinne” proficiency badge.

O’Sullivan joins the F Company, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers at their foundation in November 1913, is aide-de-camp to Seán Mac Diarmada during the 1916 Easter Rising, and is ordered by Patrick Pearse to raise the flag of rebellion over the General Post Office (GPO) stronghold in Dublin. Interned at Frongoch internment camp in Wales after the rising, he belongs to the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) group of prisoners closely linked with Michael Collins, a proximity that continues throughout the crisis years to follow. Released in the amnesty of December 1916, he intensifies his Volunteer activity, playing a prominent role in Carlow Brigade, for which he is briefly detained while working as a teacher at St. Mary’s Knockbeg College, County Carlow. When the Irish Volunteers become the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1919, he is arrested again and goes on hunger strike at Mountjoy Prison, which leads to his release. Active throughout the Irish War of Independence (1919–21) and narrowly avoiding recapture during meetings with Collins, he joins the supreme council of the IRB in November 1921, remaining there for the remainder of his military career.

From February 1920, O’Sullivan replaces Collins as adjutant general of the IRA, a position he retains until the Anglo–Irish Treaty of December 1921 (which he supports), resuming it a month later as a lieutenant general of the new National Army, responsible for personnel and promotions. He is also elected to Dáil Éireann for Carlow–Kilkenny in 1921 and again in 1922, retiring in 1923. His intellectual and organisational abilities guarantee that his position within the army is safe after the death in August 1922 of Collins, to whom he owes much for his initial rise to prominence. On August 28 he is appointed to the newly created army council, whose most draconian prerogative becomes the military execution of republican prisoners.

After the Irish Civil War (1922–23), wholesale demobilisation of officers and other ranks takes place, but O’Sullivan and his council colleagues Richard Mulcahy, Seán Mac Mahon, and Seán Ó Murthuile survive the fiscal axe. Their privileged position angers some officers, led by Major General Liam Tobin, alarmed at the rate of demobilisation and the state’s apparent abandonment of Collins’s republican ideals. Through the Irish Republican Army Organisation, they deplore the devaluation of their pre-treaty IRA service and the retention of certain former British Army officers and instructors. O’Sullivan’s brief time as adjutant general places him in the role of personnel manager. As the Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923, transforms the National Army into the defence forces of an Irish dominion, he is clearly in the sights of those who disagree with how these forces took shape.

As demobilisation continues and former British personnel become more evident, O’Sullivan and his colleagues become targets of suspicion that a hostile IRB clique had controlled the army council since its formation after the death of Collins. Exaggerated or not, such claims precipitate the army crisis of March 1924, in which O’Sullivan personally orders a raiding party under Colonel Hugo MacNeill to arrest its leaders. To defuse the crisis, he and his army council colleagues are forced to stand down, while the arrested dissidents are summarily retired. The subsequent army inquiry (April–June 1924) absolves him and his colleagues of any wrongdoing, but their active military careers are over. O’Sullivan, however, is for some time secretary of the military service pensions board.

Civilian life treats O’Sullivan well, as he enters a legal career and in 1926 is called to the bar. In 1927 he is appointed Judge Advocate General and remains so until 1932. After the assassination of Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins in July 1927, he fills the vacated Dublin County seat in a by-election in August, retaining it at subsequent elections until 1937. In August 1928 he is a Free State delegate to the Empire Parliamentary Association conference in Canada. Openly supporting Gen. Eoin O’Duffy and the short-lived ‘Blueshirts’ vanguard of the fledgling Fine Gael party during 1933–34, he pointedly refuses to surrender his legally held revolver when gardaí demand it as a precaution against a feared Blueshirt coup d’étât. In 1937 he becomes a barrister on the western circuit, and in 1940 commissioner for special purposes of the income tax acts, a post he holds for life.

O’Sullivan lives at St. Kevin’s Park, Dartry, Dublin, where he dies at the age of 57 on March 26, 1948. His military funeral to Glasnevin Cemetery, with his coffin draped in the same flag that had covered the coffin of Michael Collins, reflects his high national profile.

In 1922, O’Sullivan marries Maude Kiernan, sister of Kitty Kiernan and daughter of Peter and Bridget Kiernan, whose family is closely involved with the Irish political leadership, notably Michael Collins and Harry Boland. After Maude’s death he marries Mary Brennan of Belfast. They have three daughters and a son, all of whom survive him. O’Sullivan is commemorated in County Cork by a plaque at Skibbereen town hall.

(From: “O’Sullivan, Gearóid” contributed by Patrick Long, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, shared in line with Creative Commons ‘Attribution’ (CC BY) licencing)


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Birth of George Plant, Member of the Irish Republican Army

George Plant, Irish Republican Army (IRA) member who is executed by the Irish Government in 1942, is born into a Church of Ireland farming family in Fethard, County Tipperary, on January 5, 1904.

Plant is the second eldest child and son in a family of six children. His parents are John William Albert Plant, a farmer, and Catherine Hayden.

One Sunday in 1916 George and his older brother Jimmy are arrested by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) after being seen speaking to two well known republicans, Seán Hayes and Dan Breen. In custody the two brothers are beaten and mistreated resulting in a hatred of the RIC. He serves with the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence and with the Anti-Treaty IRA in the Irish Civil War.

In 1923 George and Jimmy leave Ireland for Canada and the United States but continue as active IRA members. In 1929 they return to Ireland and carry out a bank raid in Tipperary on behalf of the IRA. They are arrested two days later at the family farm and subsequently sentenced to 7 years in prison. They are released in a general amnesty after the Fianna Fáil and Éamon de Valera election victory in 1932. He is a strong supporter of Seán Russell. In 1939 following the outbreak of World War II, known in Ireland as The Emergency, de Valera is determined to maintain Irish neutrality and is not going to allow the IRA to jeopardize this. The IRA links with Germany and campaign in Britain are severely straining Anglo-Irish relations so emergency legislation is introduced.

Russell, the IRA Chief of Staff, dies in August 1940 after taking ill on board a U-boat and Stephen Hayes from County Wexford becomes IRA Chief of Staff. In late August 1940 an address on Lansdowne Road Dublin is raided by the Garda Síochána. Among the men arrested is Michael Devereux, a 24-year-old married truck driver from County Wexford who is also Quartermaster of the IRAs Wexford Brigade. He is released after three days without charge. Shortly afterwards Gardaí in County Wexford find an IRA arms dump. Many in the IRA suspect that Devereux had turned informer, so Stephen Hayes orders Devereux’s execution. George Plant and another man, Michael Walsh from County Kilkenny, are ordered to carry out the order. Devereux meets Plant and Walsh who tell Devereux that Tom Cullimore, the Wexford Brigade’s OC is blamed for the arms dump and that they have shot him. They order Devereux to drive them to an IRA safe house at Grangemockler in south County Tipperary. Devereux, believing he is the prime suspect in a murder, stays willingly at the safe house. A week later, on September 27, 1940, Devereux is invited to go for a walk with Plant and Paddy Davern, the owner of the safe house. Somewhere along the walk Plant accuses Devereux of being an informer and shoots him dead. Plant is arrested nine weeks later on suspicion of IRA membership and brought before the Special Criminal Court in Dublin. On February 10, 1941 Radio Éireann broadcasts a radio appeal for Michael Devereux on behalf of his wife.

In September 1941 Stephen Hayes is accused of being an informer by a group of Northern IRA members led by Seán McCaughey. He manages to escape to a garda station. Shortly afterwards a large force of Garda Síochána and Irish Army descend on the area around the Davern farmhouse where they find Devereux’s car buried under an onion bed and eventually discover Devereux’s body, a year to the day after his death. Two weeks later, Plant, already in prison on IRA membership charges, is charged with Devereux’s murder. A trial is held with a senior IRA officer, Joseph o’Connor, also charged with Devereux’s murder. The first trial collapses after two days when Paddy Davern and Micheal Walsh, two of the prosecution witnesses, refuse to give evidence. This result leads to the court issuing a nolle prosequi order which should have meant the end of the affair, however both men are rearrested and recharged with the same offence, under Emergency Order 41f. Minister for Justice Gerald Boland transfers the case to a Special Military Court with army officers acting as judges. In addition to Plant, Paddy Davern and Michael Walsh are also now charged with Devereux’s murder. The second trial begins at Collins Barracks, Dublin in February 1942 with Seán MacBride, a former IRA Chief of Staff and future government minister as the defendant’s barrister. Davern states his original statement was given at gunpoint but under the new order even statements given under duress are admissible. The court only has two sentencing options – death or acquittal. Joseph O’Connor is acquitted and despite MacBride’s best efforts the other three are sentenced to death. Davern and Walsh have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment, and are both released in 1946.

Just one week after sentence is passed, Plant is executed in Portlaoise Prison by a six-man firing squad drawn from the Irish Army. Much bitterness is caused by the treatment of Plant’s relatives. Neither his wife or mother or infant son are allowed to visit him in the week before his execution. Censorship ensures there is little mention in the newspapers so his family only learns of his execution from a brief radio broadcast shortly before they receive a telegram. He is buried in the grounds of Portlaoise Prison, but is reinterred in 1948, when he is buried with full IRA military honours in his local church St. Johnstown in County Tipperary, and a Celtic cross is erected over his grave.

Plant’s wife moves to the United States where she remarries. His brother Jimmy dies in London in 1978. The Plant’s family farm is now part of the Coolmore Estate.


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Death of Richard Montgomery, General of the Continental Army

Richard Montgomery, Irish-born major general of the Continental Army, is killed at the Battle of Quebec on December 31, 1776 during the American Revolutionary War.

Montgomery is born into a wealthy family in Swords, Dublin, on December 2, 1738. He attends Trinity College Dublin before dropping out to become a Junior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in the British Army. He serves with distinction during the Seven Years’ War, more commonly known as the French and Indian War, and is promoted several times, finally attaining the rank of captain before the end of the war. He is released from duty due to his health and returns to Great Britain to recover. In Britain, he discusses politics and affiliates with the Whigs political party in Parliament, who later supports American independence. When his health finally recovers, he resigns his commission from the British Army and moves to New York, settling into the life of a farmer. On July 24, 1773, he marries Janet Livingston, who is from an anti-British patriot family. He continues to cement his beliefs and begins to identify as an “American” rather than a “Briton.”

Eventually, Montgomery’s political beliefs turn into political action. In May 1775, he is elected as one of the ten deputies to represent Dutchess County in the New York Provincial Congress and is chosen to organize the militias and defenses of New York. After George Washington is chosen to be the commander of the Continental Army in June of the same year, the New York Provincial Congress is asked to choose two people for the rank major general and brigadier general for service in the new army. Philip Schuyler is appointed to the rank of major general. Montgomery protests the promotion, arguing that Schuyler does not have enough combat experience to be an effective leader. Later, the New York Provincial Congress appoints Montgomery as brigadier general because of his military experience. General Washington personally appoints the reluctant Montgomery to be Schuyler’s second in command. This move is just in time as Schuyler falls ill during at the start of the invasion of Canada, thus giving Montgomery control of the campaign.

Once in command, Montgomery begins a successful campaign in Canada as General Benedict Arnold is marching through the wilderness of modern-day Maine to meet him in Quebec. He captures numerous strongpoints and eventually the city of Montreal falls to the Patriots. His numerous victories and kind treatment of British prisoners take a toll on the Patriot militias under his command, who demand rest and the same provisions given to the British prisoners. The commanding general is reluctant to lead his soldiers, who he has seen as undisciplined. It takes a personal letter from General Washington to reassure him that there is insubordination and lack of discipline all throughout the Continental Army and that resignation is not the answer. Nevertheless, he continues to Quebec to meet Arnold and his army.

When Montgomery and his men arrive outside Quebec, his force consists of some 300 men compared to Arnold’s 1,000 men. Now a major general, he establishes siege lines around the city of Quebec and demands the surrender of the defenders within. The terms of surrender are rejected numerous times, leaving him and Arnold with no other choice but to assault the city. He hopes that snow will hide the movement of his troops, thus, he plans on waiting for snowfall in order to attack. General Arnold, however, is worried about his men. A December 31 enlistment expiration is looming, that could drastically reduce the size of the assaulting force. Montgomery discovers waiting for the right time is not an option and coordinates an attack for the early hours of December 31, 1775. That morning, Montgomery leads a group of his men toward the interior of Quebec. With sword drawn and lantern out, the Patriots advance toward a blockhouse where the British and Canadian defenders notice this movement and let loose a volley of grapeshot and muskets, which instantly kills Montgomery and the men close to him.

Montgomery’s body is discovered after the failed attacks by the Continentals. The British defenders of Quebec bring his body to General Guy Carleton, who orders it be buried with respect and dignity. He is laid to rest in Quebec on January 4, 1776. News of his death causes widespread mourning, both in America and in the British Isles. Many Patriots elevate his status to a hero and martyr for independence and the American cause, while British members of parliament, especially the Whigs, use his death to mark the failures in the British response to the insurrection in their colonies. In July 1818 his remains are reinterred in New York.

(From: “Richard Montgemery,” American Battlefield Trust, http://www.battlefields.org)