seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Hanging of Irish Republican Charlie Kerins

Charlie Kerins, a physical force Irish Republican and Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is hanged on December 1, 1944 at Mountjoy Prison in Dublin by the English hangman Albert Pierrepoint.

Kerins is born in Caherina, Tralee, County Kerry and attends Balloonagh Mercy Convent School and then the CBS, Edward Street. At the age of 13, he wins a Kerry County Council scholarship and completes his secondary education at the Green Christian Brothers and the Jeffers Institute. In 1930, he passes the Intermediate Certificate with honours and the matriculation examination to the National University of Ireland (NUI). He later does a commercial course and takes up employment in a radio business in Tralee.

In 1940, Kerins is sworn into the IRA and is appointed to the GHQ staff in May 1942. At the time, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera is determined to preserve Irish neutrality during World War II. Therefore, the IRA’s bombing campaign in England, its attacks against targets in Northern Ireland, and its ties to the intelligence services of Nazi Germany are regarded as severe threats to Ireland’s national security. IRA men who are captured by the Gardaí are interned for the duration of the war by the Irish Army in the Curragh Camp in County Kildare.

On the morning of September 9, 1942, Garda Detective Sergeant Denis O’Brien is leaving his home in Ballyboden, Dublin. He is between his front gate and his car when he is cut down with Thompson submachine guns. O’Brien, an Anti-Treaty veteran of the Irish Civil War, had enlisted in the Garda Síochána in 1933. He is one of the most effective Detectives of the Special Branch division, which has its headquarters at Dublin Castle. The shooting greatly increases public feeling against the IRA, particularly as the murder is carried out in full view of his wife.

Following the arrest of Hugh McAteer in October 1942, Kerins is named Chief of Staff of the IRA. Despite a massive manhunt by Gardaí, he remains at large for two years. He stays at a County Waterford home for two weeks while he is on the run, having given his name as Pat Carney. He is captured several months after he leaves the home.

Kerins had previously left papers and guns hidden at Kathleen Farrell’s house in the Dublin suburb of Rathmines. He telephones the house, as he intends to retrieve them. However, Farrell’s telephone had been tapped by the Gardaí. On June 15, 1944, he is arrested in an early morning raid. He is sleeping when the Gardaí enter his bedroom and does not have an opportunity to reach the Thompson submachine gun which is hidden under his bed.

At a trial before the Special Criminal Court in Collins Barracks, Dublin, Kerins is formally charged on October 2, 1944 for the “shooting at Rathfarnham of Detective Dinny O’Brien.” At the end of his trial, the president of the Military Court delays sentence until later in the day to allow Kerins, if he wishes, to make an application whereby he might avoid a capital sentence. When the court resumes, he says, “You could have adjourned it for six years as far as I am concerned, as my attitude towards this Court will always be the same.” He thus deprives himself of the right to give evidence, to face cross-examination, or to call witnesses.

Despite legal moves initiated by Seán MacBride, public protests, and parliamentary intervention by TDs from Clann na Talmhan, Labour, and Independent Oliver J. Flanagan in Leinster House, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera refuses to issue a reprieve. On December 1, 1944 in Mountjoy Prison, Kerins is hanged by British chief executioner Albert Pierrepoint, who is employed by the Irish Government for such occasions.

Kerins is the last IRA member to be executed in the Republic of Ireland. He is buried in the prison yard. In September 1948, his remains are exhumed and released to his family. He is buried in the Republican plot at Rath Cemetery, Tralee, County Kerry.


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National Day of Commemoration 2017

national-day-of-commemoration-2017President Michael D. Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar lead the ceremony to mark the National Day of Commemoration at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Kilmainham, Dublin on July 9, 2017. The event is a multi-faith service of prayer and a military service honouring all Irish people who died in past wars or on service with the United Nations. Events are also held in Cork, Galway, Limerick, Sligo, Kilkenny and Waterford.

The National Day of Commemoration is held on the Sunday closest to July 11, the anniversary of the date the truce was signed in 1921 to end the Irish War of Independence.

Leaders from Christian, Coptic Christian, Jewish and Islamic denominations read or sing prayers and readings, and President Higgins lays a laurel wreath. The service is observed by more than 1,000 guests, including Government Ministers, the Council of State, which advises the Taoiseach, members of the judiciary, members of the diplomatic corps, TDs and Senators, representatives of ex-servicemen’s organisations and relatives of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising.

The national flag is lowered to half-mast while the “Last Post” and “Reveille” are sounded. After a minute of silence, a gun salute is sounded and the flag is raised again before the national anthem is played with a fly-by by three Pilatus PC-9 aircraft.

The Army band of the 1st Brigade and pipers play music including “Limerick’s Lament” and “A Celtic Lament” as guests arrive at the quadrangle of the former British Army veterans’ hospital, now the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

The prayer service begins with Imam Sheikh Hussein Halawa of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, father of Ibrahim Halawa, who is in prison in Cairo, singing verses from the Quran in Arabic and praying in English, “I ask Allah, the Mighty, the Lord, to bless our country, Ireland, and give the people of our country a zeal for justice and strength for forbearance.”

Soloist Sharon Lyons sings hymns between prayers and readings from all denominations, ending with Rabbi Zalman Lent: “May the efforts and sacrifice of those we honour today be transformed into the blessing of people throughout the world.”

Speaking to reporters, Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces Vice Admiral Mark Mellett says more than 650 personnel are serving in eleven countries and on the Mediterranean Sea. “In the Defence Forces we have over 80 people who have given their lives in the cause of peace internationally, and I think it’s a sign of a State that recognises those who give this service,” he says. “The military of our State serve the political and serve the people. And it’s this loyalty to the State which is actually critical, and I’m delighted that we have a day like this.”

Mellett’s views are echoed by former sergeant Denis Barry, who says 47 Irish soldiers died in Lebanon and it is important to pay respects for that sacrifice. “None of us who served ever thought we would see the day we could travel in Lebanon without weapons, heavy armaments or flak jackets.” That United Nations mission paid off, he says.

Former British soldier Ron Hammond says the event reflects positive developments, such as the creation of the veterans’ Union of British and Irish Forces. He served from 1960 to 1980 in the Royal Irish Fusiliers and Royal Irish Rangers, spending time in Germany, Canada, Yemen and north and south Africa. He joined the British rather than the Irish forces because at the time “a home posting in the Defence Forces was Collins Barracks and an overseas posting was the Curragh encampment.”

(From: “Irish military dead honoured in National Day of Commemoration” by Marie O’Halloran, The Irish Times, July 9, 2017)


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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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Irish Protests of the War in Iraq

iraq-war-protestOn the evening of March 20, 2003, up to 2,000 people take part in a protest outside the United States Embassy at Ballsbridge in Dublin to voice their opposition to the war in Iraq. This is one of numerous protests held in response to the Irish Anti-War Movement‘s call on Irish citizens to mount mass protests against the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The group says thousands of workers, students and school pupils had taken part in stoppages and walk-outs throughout the day.

Richard Boyd Barrett, the chairman of the IAWM, says, “The complicity of the Irish government in this murderous war through providing facilities for the U.S. military at Shannon Airport is an absolute disgrace. “This war has little support among ordinary people and has provoked a wave of anger and revulsion. We call on the people of Ireland to come out in their thousands at 6:00 PM tonight to their town centre demonstrations to show this carnage is not being mounted in our names.”

Earlier in the day, several hundred protesters gather outside Dáil Éireann to protest the Irish Government‘s decision to continue allowing U.S. military aircraft use Shannon Airport. The Dáil is holding a six-hour debate on a Government motion which, among other topics, contains a clause permitting U.S. forces continued use of Irish airspace and facilities.

A 10-minute work stoppage at noon is observed by thousands of people, the IAWM claims. They say hundreds of students in University College Dublin, Dublin City University, University of Limerick and the Waterford Institute of Technology walked out, as did secondary school students in several schools in Dublin. Up to 1,000 students from second level colleges in Derry take part in an hour-long city centre protest. Around 50 health workers at Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown, staff at the National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street and Collins Barracks and workers at the Motor Taxation office in Cork also stop work.

The NGO Peace Alliance says it is “extremely disappointed” at the Government’s refusal to condemn the attack on Iraq. “We call upon thousands of Irish people to reject this shameful position by thronging the streets of Dublin and other cities and towns next Saturday” said the alliance’s co-ordinator, Brendan Butler.

SIPTU‘s National Executive Council also interrupts their monthly meeting. “This war is not only unnecessary but illegitimate in the context of international law”, says Joe O’Flynn, SIPTU General Secretary.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions organises peace vigils on March 21 at the Spire of Dublin and other locations in various town and cities. Weekend anti-war protests take place in Dublin, Cork, Derry, Belfast, Galway, Sligo and Waterford.

(From: “Thousands protest against war at US Embassy” by Kilian Doyle, The Irish Times, March 20, 2003)


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State Funeral for Thomas Kent

thomas-kent-funeralA state funeral for Thomas Kent takes place on September 18, 2015, 99 years after his execution following the 1916 Easter Rising. Thousands of people line the route from Collins Barracks in Cork to the Church of Saint Nicholas, Castlelyons, County Cork for the funeral mass.

Kent is executed after a gun battle with members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) who come to arrest him and his brothers on May 2, 1916, during the aftermath of the Easter Rising. During the ensuing fight, head constable William Rowe is killed and Kent’s brother Richard later dies of his wounds. He is executed by firing squad on May 9, 1916 in the Military Detention Barracks, Cork and is buried in an unmarked grave on the grounds.

Apart from Roger Casement, Kent is the only one of the sixteen men executed after the Easter Rising to be executed outside Dublin. In June 2015, his remains are exhumed and DNA testing confirms their identity.

A ripple of applause breaks through the crowd when the funeral cortege arrives at the church near where Kent was born and raised. The church is unable to accommodate all the visitors so a marquee is set up on the grounds of the church.

President Michael D. Higgins is in attendance along with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Joan Burton, Fianna Fáil leader Michéal Martin and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams. The diplomatic corps is represented by British ambassador Dominick Chilcott, U.S. ambassador Kevin O’Malley and the Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown. The extended Kent family is represented mostly by the relatives of Edmund and William Kent, Thomas Kent’s brothers.

Kent’s funeral “writes the final chapter in a long ordeal for the Kent family,” the Bishop of Cloyne William Crean tells the congregation. Delivering the funeral eulogy, Cmdt. Gerry White says Thomas Kent was once known only for being the man who gave his name to Kent Station in Cork. “Today, however, all that is changed. Today, because of the recent discovery of his remains, Thomas Kent has once again become someone who is very much in the present. Today, members of Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Irish Defence Forces, will render the military honours that were denied him 99 years ago. Today, he will no longer be the ‘Forgotten Volunteer.’ Today, after 99 years, Thomas Kent is finally coming home.”

Thomas Kent’s life is represented by a picture of the family home, rosary beads, a pioneer pin and a leabhair gaeilge representing his interests in life. He is buried in the graveyard at Castlelyons. Taoiseach Enda Kenny gives the funeral oration.

(From: “State funeral for executed 1916 rebel Thomas Kent” by Ronan McGreevy and Éanna Ó Caollaí, The Irish Times, September 18, 2015 | Pictured: The remains of Thomas Kent as they are carried into St. Nicholas’ Church, Castlelyons, County Cork, photograph by Alan Betson)


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Death of Fighter Pilot “Paddy” Finucane

brendan-finucaneWing Commander Brendan Eamonn Fergus Finucane, World War II Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter pilot and flying ace known as Paddy Finucane amongst his colleagues, dies on July 15, 1942 when he is forced to ditch his aircraft in the English Channel. He is also noted for being the youngest person to ever become wing leader of a fighter wing.

Finucane, born on October 16, 1920 in Rathmines, Dublin, is credited with 28 aerial victories, five probably destroyed, six shared destroyed, one shared probable victory, and eight damaged. Included in his total are twenty-three Messerschmitt Bf 109s, four Focke-Wulf Fw 190s and one Messerschmitt Bf 110. Official records differ over the exact total. After the war, two of Finucane’s victories that had been credited as probables had, in fact, been destroyed, but are not officially included. His total victory count could be as high as 32.

On July 15, Finucane is killed at the age of 21 while leading the Hornchurch Wing in a fighter “Ramrod” operation targeting a German Army camp at Étaples, France. He takes off with his wing at 11:50 AM. The attack is timed to hit the Germans at lunchtime. Crossing the beach at Le Touquet, they target machine gun positions. His plane is hit in the radiator at 12:22 PM. His wingman, Alan Aikman, notifies him of the white plume of smoke and Finucane acknowledges it with a thumbs up. Standard regulations insist the wing carry on the mission even if the leader is in trouble. Radio silence is maintained so the enemy radio-interception services do not become aware that a person of importance has been hit.

Finucane flies slowly out to sea, talking calmly to Aikman as he glides along in his stricken fighter. Finally, some 8 miles off Le Touquet on the French coast, he breaks radio silence and sends his last message. Aikman, flying alongside Finucane, sees him pull back the canopy, and before taking off his helmet, say “This is it Butch.” It is a well–executed landing, but the waves are difficult to predict and the Spitfire‘s nose strikes the water and disappears in a wall of spray. Before he hits the water, witnesses Aikman and Keith Chisholm of 452 Squadron see him release, or perhaps tighten, his parachute release harness and straps. If Finucane did release them, it is possible he could have been thrown forward onto the gun-sight and killed, or knocked unconscious and drowned. The exact circumstances remain unknown.

Over 2,500 people attend his memorial at Westminster Cathedral. A rose is planted in the memorial garden in Baldonnel Aerodrome in Dublin, home of the Irish Air Corps. Finucane’s name is also inscribed on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede. The memorial commemorates airmen who were lost in World War II and who have no known grave. The Battle of Britain Monument on London‘s Victoria Embankment also includes his name as one of The Few. His flying logbook can be viewed in the Soldiers and Chief’s exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks. The Finucane family donated Brendan Finucane’s uniform to the Royal Air Force Museum London.


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Execution of Thomas Kent

thomas-kentIrish nationalist Thomas Kent is executed at Cork Detention Barracks on May 9, 1916. Kent’s story is one of the stranger episodes that happens after the rebellion in Dublin has been quelled. Unlike the Dublin rebels, Kent does not go out to fight. Rather the British come to him looking for trouble.

Kent is part of a prominent nationalist family who lives at Bawnard House, Castlelyons, County Cork. After spending some time in Boston he returns to Ireland because of poor health. He is active in the Land League, Sinn Féin, and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. With the launch of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, he is prominent with another legendary Cork man, Terence MacSwiney, in organizing and training recruits.

The Kent family is prepared to take part in the Easter Rising but when the mobilisation order is countermanded by Eoin MacNeill, commander of the Irish Volunteers, on April 22, they stay at home. The rising nevertheless goes ahead in Dublin on Easter Monday. The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) is dispatched to arrest well-known sympathizers throughout the country including, but not limited to, known members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Sinn Féin, and the Irish Volunteers.

When the Kent residence is raided at 3:45 AM on May 2, the RIC is met with resistance from Thomas and his brothers Richard, David, and William. A gunfight lasts for four hours, during which RIC officer Head Constable William Rowe is killed and David Kent is seriously wounded. Eventually the Kents are forced to surrender, although Richard makes a last minute dash for freedom and is fatally wounded.

Thomas and William are tried by court martial on May 4 on a charge of “armed rebellion.” William, who is not political, is found innocent, but Thomas is found guilty in the death of Constable Rowe and is sentenced to death. Before being led out for his execution, Kent says, “I have done my duty as a soldier of Ireland and in a few moments I hope to see the face of God.” He is executed by firing squad in Cork in the early morning hours of May 9. David Kent is brought to Dublin where he is charged with the same offence, found guilty, and sentenced to death, but the sentence is commuted and he is sentenced to five years penal servitude.

Apart from the singular case of Roger Casement, Thomas Kent is the only person outside of Dublin to be executed for his role in the events surrounding Easter Week. He is buried on the grounds of Cork Prison, formerly the Military Detention Barracks at the rear of Collins Barracks, Cork. The former army married quarters at the rear of Collins Barracks are named in his honour.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny offers a state funeral to the Kent family early in 2015 which they accept. Kent’s remains are exhumed from Cork prison in June 2015 after being buried for 99 years. The state funeral is held on September 18, 2015 at St. Nicholas’ Church in Castlelyons. Kent lay in state at Collins Barracks in Cork the day before. The requiem mass is attended by President Michael D. Higgins, with Enda Kenny delivering the graveside oration.