seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of John Barry, Victoria Cross Recipient

john-barry-vcJohn Barry is born on February 1, 1873 in St. Mary’s Parish, Kilkenny, County Kilkenny. He is by birth an Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Little is known of Barry’s early life prior to his enlistment with the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment of the British Army. Shortly after his enlistment, he finds himself sailing to South Africa for the outbreak of the Second Boer War, a conflict which ultimately leads to the award of the Victoria Cross, albeit tragically posthumously.

During the night attack on Monument Hill on January 7-8, 1901, Private Barry, although surrounded and threatened by the Boers at the time, smashes the breach of the Maxim gun, thus rendering it useless to its captors. It is in doing this splendid act for his country that he meets his death.

Barry dies of wounds received during his VC action at Monument Hill, South Africa. At the time, no posthumous awards of the VC can be made. However, as so often in the history of the Victoria Cross it is an individual, the mother of Alfred Atkinson, that brings about a decisive move to investigate those servicemen who would have been recommended for the award of the VC if they had not died beforehand. The outcome of the War Office investigation results in an announcement being published in The London Gazette on August 8, 1902. In fact, Barry’s family had already received his medal via registered post on April 30, 1902.

Barry is buried in Belfast Cemetery, east of Johannesburg, South Africa. His medals are sold at auction on September 22, 2000 and purchased at a hammer price of £85,000 by the Ashcroft Trust and displayed in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery in the Imperial War Museum, London.


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The Constitution of Ireland Comes Into Force

constitution-of-ireland-1937The Constitution of Ireland, the second constitution of the Irish state since independence, comes into force on December 29, 1937 following a statewide plebiscite held on July 1, 1937, replacing the 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State. It asserts the national sovereignty of the Irish people. The constitution falls broadly within the tradition of liberal democracy, being based on a system of representative democracy. It guarantees certain fundamental rights, along with a popularly elected non-executive president, a bicameral parliament based on the Westminster system, a separation of powers and judicial review. The Constitution may be amended solely by a national referendum.

The Constitution of Ireland replaces the Constitution of the Irish Free State which had been in effect since the independence, as a dominion, of the Irish state from the United Kingdom on December 6, 1922. There are two main motivations for replacing the constitution in 1937. Firstly, the Statute of Westminster 1931 grants parliamentary autonomy to the six British Dominions (now known as Commonwealth realms) within a British Commonwealth of Nations. This has the effect of making the dominions sovereign nations in their own right. The Irish Free State constitution of 1922 is, in the eyes of many, associated with the controversial Anglo-Irish Treaty. The anti-treaty faction, who oppose the treaty initially by force of arms, is so opposed to the institutions of the new Irish Free State that it initially takes an abstentionist line toward them, boycotting them altogether. However, the largest element of this faction becomes convinced that abstentionism cannot be maintained forever. This element, led by Éamon de Valera, forms the Fianna Fáil party in 1926, which enters into government following the 1932 Irish general election.

After 1932, under the provisions of the Statute of Westminster, some of the articles of the original Constitution which were required by the Anglo-Irish Treaty are dismantled by acts of the Oireachtas of the Irish Free State. Such amendments remove references to the Oath of Allegiance, appeals to the United Kingdom’s Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the British Crown and the Governor-General of the Irish Free State. The sudden abdication of Edward VIII in December 1936 is quickly used to redefine the Royal connection. Nevertheless, the Fianna Fáil government still desires to replace the constitutional document they see as having been imposed by the British government in 1922.

The second motive for replacing the original constitution is primarily symbolic. De Valera wants to put an Irish stamp on the institutions of government, and chooses to do this in particular through the use of Irish Gaelic nomenclature.

The text of the draft constitution, with minor amendments, is approved on June 14, 1937 by Dáil Éireann, then the sole house of parliament as the Seanad had been abolished the previous year.

The draft constitution is then put to a plebiscite on July 1, 1937, the same day as the 1937 Irish general election, when it is passed by a plurality of 56% of the voters, comprising 38.6% of the whole electorate. The constitution formally comes into force on December 29, 1937.

Among the groups who oppose the constitution are supporters of Fine Gael and the Labour Party, Unionists, and some independents and feminists. The Seal of the President of Ireland is also adopted in the same year. Ireland does not become a republic until 1948.

(Pictured: Headline from The New York Times, May 1, 1937)


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Birth of Henry Harrison, Politician & Writer

henry-harrisonCaptain Henry Harrison, nationalist politician and writer, is born in Holywood, County Down on December 17, 1867.

A Protestant nationalist, Harrison is the son of Henry Harrison and Letitia Tennent, the daughter of Robert James Tennent, who had been Liberal Party MP for Belfast from 1847 to 1852. Later, when widowed, she marries the author Hartley Withers.

Harrison goes to Westminster School and then to Balliol College, Oxford. While there he develops an admiration for Charles Stewart Parnell and becomes secretary of the Oxford University Home Rule League. At this time, the Land War is in progress and in 1889 he goes to Ireland to visit the scene of the evictions in Gweedore, County Donegal. He becomes involved in physical confrontations with the Royal Irish Constabulary and as a result becomes a Nationalist celebrity overnight. The following May, Parnell offers the vacant parliamentary seat of Mid Tipperary to Harrison, who leaves Oxford at age 22, to take it up, unopposed.

Only six months later, following the divorce case involving Katharine O’Shea, the Irish Parliamentary Party splits over Parnell’s leadership. Harrison strongly supports Parnell, acts as his bodyguard and aide-de-camp, and after Parnell’s death devotes himself to the service of his widow Katharine. From her he hears a completely different version of the events surrounding the divorce case from that which had appeared in the press, and this is to form the seed of his later books.

At the 1892 United Kingdom general election, Harrison does not defend Mid-Tipperary. He stands at West Limerick as a Parnellite instead, but comes nowhere near winning the seat. In the 1895 United Kingdom general election, he stands at North Sligo, polling better but again far short of winning. In 1895 he marries Maie Byrne, an American, with whom he has a son. He comes to prominence briefly again in 1903 when, in spite of his lack of legal training, he successfully conducts his own case in a court action all the way to the House of Lords.

Otherwise, however, Harrison disappears from public view until his war service with the Royal Irish Regiment when he serves on the Western Front with distinction in the New British Army formed for World War I, reaching the rank of Captain and being awarded the Military Cross (MC). He organises patrols in “No Man’s Land” so successfully that he is appointed special patrol officer to the 16th (Irish) Division. He is invalided out and becomes a recruiting officer in Ireland. He is appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 1919 New Year Honours.

Harrison then makes a return to Irish politics, working with Sir Horace Plunkett as Secretary of the Irish Dominion League, an organisation campaigning for dominion status for Ireland within the British Empire. He is a lifelong opponent of Irish partition. He is Irish correspondent of The Economist from 1922 to 1927 and owner-editor of Irish Truth from 1924 to 1927.

Harrison’s two books defending Parnell are published in 1931 and 1938. They have had a major impact on Irish historiography, leading to a more favourable view of Parnell’s role in the O’Shea affair. F. S. L. Lyons comments that he “did more than anyone else to uncover what seems to have been the true facts” about the Parnell-O’Shea liaison. The second book, Parnell, Joseph Chamberlain and Mr Garvin, is written in response to J. L. Garvin‘s biography of Joseph Chamberlain, which had ignored his first book, Parnell Vindicated: The Lifting of the Veil. Later, he successfully repulses an attempt in the official history of The Times to rehabilitate that newspaper’s role in using forged letters to attack Parnell in the late 1880s. In 1952 he forces The Times to publish a four-page correction written by him as an appendix to the fourth volume of the history.

During the difficult years of the Anglo-Irish Trade War over the land purchase annuities, declaration of the Republic, Irish neutrality during World War II, and departure from the Commonwealth, Harrison works to promote good relations between Britain and Ireland. He publishes various books and pamphlets on the issues in dispute and writes numerous letters to The Times. He also founds, with General Sir Hubert Gough, the Commonwealth Irish Association in 1942.

At the time of his death on February 20, 1954, Harrison is the last survivor of the Irish Parliamentary Party led by Parnell, and as a member of the pre-1918 Irish Parliamentary Party, he seems to have been outlived only by John Patrick Hayden, who dies a few months after him in 1954 and by Patrick Whitty and John Lymbrick Esmonde who are only MPs for a very short time during World War I. He is buried in Holywood, County Down.


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Establishment of the Irish Free State

free-state-executive-councilThe Irish Free State (Irish: Saorstát Éireann), an independent state established under the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921, comes into being on December 6, 1922. The treaty ends the three-year Irish War of Independence between the forces of the self-proclaimed Irish Republic, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and British Crown forces.

The Free State is established as a Dominion of the British Commonwealth of Nations. For one day, it encompasses all thirty-two counties of Ireland. Northern Ireland, which is comprised of the six northernmost counties, exercises its right under the Treaty to opt out of the new state on December 7.

The Free State government consists of the Governor-General, the representative of the king, and the Executive Council, which replaces both the revolutionary Dáil Government and the Provisional Government set up under the Treaty. W. T. Cosgrave, who had led both of these governments since August 1922, becomes the first President of the Executive Council. The legislature consists of Dáil Éireann, the lower house, and Seanad Éireann, also known as the Senate. Members of the Dáil are required to take an Oath of Allegiance, swearing fidelity to the king. The oath is a key issue for opponents of the Treaty, who refuse to take the oath and therefore do not take their seats. Pro-Treaty members, who form Cumann na nGaedheal in 1923, hold an effective majority in the Dáil from 1922 to 1927, and thereafter rule as a minority government until 1932.

In the first months of the Free State, the Irish Civil War is waged between the newly established National Army and the anti-Treaty IRA, who refuse to recognise the state. The Civil War ends in victory for the government forces, with the anti-Treaty forces dumping its arms in May 1923. The anti-Treaty political party, Sinn Féin, refuses to take its seats in the Dáil, leaving the relatively small Labour Party as the only opposition party. In 1926, when Sinn Féin president Éamon de Valera fails to have this policy reversed, he resigns from Sinn Féin and founds Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil enters the Dáil following the 1927 general election, and enters government after the Irish general election of 1932, when it becomes the largest party.

De Valera abolishes the Oath of Allegiance and embarks on an economic war with Britain. In 1937 he drafts a new constitution, which is passed by a referendum in July of that year. The Free State comes to an end with the coming into force of the new constitution on December 29, 1937. Under the new constitution the Irish state is named Ireland.

(Pictured: The Executive Council of the Irish Free State, October 1928)