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


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Death of Piaras Béaslaí, Author, Playwright & Politician

Piaras Béaslaí, author, playwright, biographer and translator, who is a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), fights in the Easter Rising and serves as a member of Dáil Éireann, dies on June 22, 1965.

Béaslaí is born Percy Frederick Beazley in Liverpool, England on February 15, 1881 to Irish Catholic parents, Patrick Langford Beazley, originally from Killarney, County Kerry, and Nannie Hickey, from Newcastle West, County Limerick. During his summer holidays in his younger years, he spends time in Ireland (near Kenmare, County Kerry) with his paternal uncle, Father James Beazley, where he begins to learn the Irish language. He is educated at St. Francis Xavier’s College in Liverpool, where he develops his keen interest in Irish. By the time he is aged 17 his Irish proficiency is exceptional.

After finishing his education at St. Francis Xavier’s, Béaslaí is encouraged to begin Irish poetry by Tadhg Ó Donnchadha. He follows his father’s footsteps into journalism, initially working for the local Wallasey News. In 1906 he moves to Dublin, and within a year becomes a freelance writer for the Irish Peasant, Irish Independent, Freeman’s Journal and Express. He is offered a permanent position with Independent Newspapers, as assistant leader writer and special reporter for the Dublin Evening Telegraph. He writes regularly for the Freeman’s Journal, including a daily half-column in Irish.

After his early introduction to Irish poetry Béaslaí becomes involved in staging Irish-language amateur drama at the Oireachtas annual music festival. He begins to write both original works and adaptations from foreign languages. One of these works, Eachtra Pheadair Schlemiel (1909), is translated from German into Irish.

Later Béaslaí continues to write poetry, such as the collection “Bealtaine 1916” agus Dánta Eile (1920), and short stories such as “Earc agus Aine agus Scéalta Eile.” Between 1913 and 1939 he writes many plays, including Cliuche Cartaí (1920), An Sgaothaire agus Cúig Drámaí Eile (1929), An Danar (1929) and An Bhean Chródha (1931). He writes two books about his comrade Michael Collins: Michael Collins and the Making of a New Ireland (2 volumes, 1926) and Michael Collins: Soldier and Statesman (1937).

Béaslaí’s works revolve around the Irish language movement and the Irish Republican Army (IRA), focusing on the independence struggle of Ireland. He writes about these topics in newspapers such as the Standard and The Kerryman. His most notable work in newspapers during his later life includes his contribution to the Irish Independent, which publishes a section called ‘A Veteran Remembers’ five days a week from May 16 to June 1957, as well as a weekly section called ‘Moods and Memories’ on Wednesdays from May 24, 1961 to June 16, 1965.

One of the awards Béaslaí gains during his career is on August 14, 1928, a gold medal at the Tailteann Literary Awards. While in Dublin, he joins the Keating Branch of the Gaelic League, and after he moves to Ireland he begins using the Irish form of his name, Piaras Béaslaí, rather than Percy Beazley.

Béaslaí is a founding member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. In January 1916 he serves as a courier for political activist and revolutionary leader Seán Mac Diarmada. By the time of the Easter Rising that year, he is deputy commanding officer of the 1st Dublin Battalion. In an audio recording to which he contributes in 1958, he details his experience in the Rising, describing the rebels assembling before noon in Blackhall Street at battalion headquarters. After midday they march out to the Four Courts, erecting barricades as they do so. The Four Courts is his main station.

In the audio, Béaslaí recalls a green flag with a gold harp in the centre. This is the non-Sinn Féin flag at the time. He is in direct charge of the Four Courts area, and at one point during the fight he orders a complete blackout. He recalls, “things were going badly for the English soldiers” and describes the whole event as “a weird experience.” He remembers the streets being lit up with fires in the darkness as if it were bright as day. He speaks of the intensity of the firing line and then how it suddenly ceases on the Friday. He remembers falling asleep and when he awakens being presented with Patrick Pearse‘s order to surrender. The rebels are brought to Richmond Barracks. He then spends fifteen months in English prisons.

Béaslaí serves three years of penal servitude divided between a stringent HM Prison Portland and a more lenient HM Prison Lewes. He is then imprisoned two times within four months during 1919, both terms ending in celebrated escapes. After his final prison release, Michael Collins approaches him about editing An tOglach, the Irish Volunteer newspaper. This sees communication between GHQ and local volunteers drastically improve.

Later, Béaslaí becomes director of publicity for the Irish Republican Army, and at the 1918 Irish general election he is elected to the First Dáil as Sinn Féin MP for East Kerry. Sinn Féin MPs elected in the Westminster elections of 1918 refuse to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and instead assemble the following January at the Mansion House in Dublin as a revolutionary parliament, Dáil Éireann. Béaslaí is noted for his translation of the democratic programme of the First Dáil, which he reads aloud at the inaugural sitting.

Béaslaí is a member of the Sinn Féin party for five years. Between 1919 and 1921 he represents the East Kerry constituency in the First Dáil. Then, at the 1921 Irish elections, he is returned unopposed to the Second Dáil as a Sinn Féin Teachta Dála (TD) for Kerry–Limerick West. Following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, he is re-elected there unopposed at the 1922 Irish general election as a pro-Treaty Sinn Féin candidate, and is thus a member of the Third Dáil, which is Pro-Treaty at this stage. In 1922 he goes to the United States to explain the Treaty to Sinn Féin’s Irish American supporters. He does not contest the 1923 Irish general election.

Béaslaí and Con Collins share the distinction of having been elected in three Irish general elections unopposed by any other candidates.

During Béaslaí’s time in London, he gives a lot of his time to the Gaelic League. In the Keating branch of the league, in Ireland, he develops an interest in the IRB. Cathal Brugha, a branch member, asks him to join the IRB. The Keating branch is where Béaslaí meets Michael Collins, eventually introducing Collins to his cousin and fellow branch member, Elizabeth Mernin. He is also instrumental in establishing An Fáinne, an Irish-speaking league whose members vow to speak solely Irish among themselves and wear a membership badge of a circle. This coincides with his involvement in the IRB. His love of the Irish language gives him an opportunity to delve into his other hobbies. He writes for Banba, an Irish journal published by the Gaelic League. He is able to express his love for theatre, in the Gaelic League, forming a group of men called “Na hAisteoirí.”

Béaslaí dies, unmarried, at the age of 84 on June 22, 1965, in a nursing home in Dublin. He is buried in a plot in Glasnevin Cemetery, after a Requiem Mass in St. Columba’s Church, Iona Road, Glasnevin.


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Birth of Diarmuid O’Hegarty, Civil Servant & Revolutionary

Diarmuid O’Hegarty (Ó hÉigeartuigh), civil servant and revolutionary, is born Jeremiah Stephen Hegarty on December 26, 1892 in Lowertown, Skibbereen, County Cork, the eldest of seven children of Jeremiah Hegarty (1856–1934) and his wife Eileen (née Barry), both teachers. He is educated at the Christian Brothers school, St. Patrick’s Place, Cork, joins the civil service in 1910 and is posted to the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, acquiring invaluable administrative experience as private secretary to T. P. Gill, secretary of the department.

O’Hegarty is a member of the Keating branch of the Gaelic League and the closely associated Teeling circle of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). In 1913 he becomes secretary and stage manager of a troupe of Gaelic players, Na hAisteoirí, which includes several who later become prominent revolutionaries: Piaras Béaslaí, Gearóid O’Sullivan, Fionán Lynch, and Con Collins. As second lieutenant of F Company, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers, during the Easter Rising, he is in charge of barricades in Church Street, Mary Lane, Mary’s Abbey, and Jameson Distillery, an area which sees fierce fighting. Imprisoned in Knutsford (May 1-18), he is released in error and returns to his post in the civil service. On his return he is a key figure in the reorganisation of the Volunteers and IRB, becoming a member of the executive of the IRB’s supreme council along with Michael Collins and Seán Ó Murthuile. He also becomes a central figure in Kathleen Clarke‘s prisoner support group, the Irish Volunteer Dependents Fund, and when it amalgamates with the more moderate Irish National Aid Association to form the INA&VDF in August 1916, he helps to ensure that it is dominated by republicans.

O’Hegarty is very close to Michael Collins and Harry Boland and in 1918 this IRB triumvirate exercises considerable control in the nomination of Sinn Féin candidates for the 1918 Irish general election. In the same year he is dismissed from the civil service for refusing to take the oath of allegiance, but his administrative talents find ample outlet in the secretariat of the revolutionary Dáil and later in the service of the Irish Free State to such an extent that he has been called ‘the civil servant of the revolution’ and ‘the Grey Eminence of the Free State Government.’ As clerk of the First Dáil and secretary to the Dáil cabinet (1919–21), he is largely responsible for its success, organising meetings of the clandestine parliament and coordinating the work of various departments from his offices on the corner of O’Connell Street and Abbey Street and later in Middle Abbey Street. He is determined that the Dáil will demonstrate its worth by ‘functioning as any progressive government would be expected to function.’ He records the minutes and handles all correspondence of the Dáil cabinet. As the conduit through which the Dáil’s ministers communicate, his role is central to the effective operation of government on the run. The influence this gives him within the revolutionary movement is bolstered by his senior role within the IRB and the positions of military significance which he occupies. He is a member of the Volunteer Executive (Jun 1916–Nov 1921), Irish Republican Army (IRA) Director of Communications (Jul 1918–Mar 1920), and Director of Organisation (Mar 1920–Apr 1921). When convicted of illegal assembly and jailed in Mountjoy Prison (Nov 1919–Feb 1920), he immediately wields power within the prison, ordering Noel Lemass off a hunger strike.

O’Hegarty resigns his military duties in April 1921 to concentrate on his work in the Dáil secretariat and serves as secretary to the Irish delegation during the Anglo–Irish Treaty negotiations in London (Oct–Dec 1921). He is a vital voice for the Treaty within the IRB and is appointed secretary to the cabinet of the Provisional Government in 1922, participating in the unsuccessful army unification talks of May 1922. During the Irish Civil War he is briefly seconded from his civil service post to serve as military governor of Mountjoy Prison (Jul-Aug 1922), where he threatens that prisoners who persist in leaning out of windows and talking to the public outside the prison will be shot. Peadar O’Donnell, who is a prisoner there at the time, remembers him as the focus of much ‘republican bitterness.’ A member of the army council during the Irish Civil War, he serves as Director of Organisation (Jul–Dec 1922) and Director of Intelligence (Dec 1922–May 1923), leaving the army with the rank of lieutenant general on May 1, 1923 to resume his civil service career.

O’Hegarty is secretary to the Executive Council of the Irish Free State (1923–32) and principal private secretary to its president, W. T. Cosgrave. Again he records the cabinet minutes and is the administrative pivot upon which government turns. He serves as secretary to numerous governmental delegations and is widely praised for his work in this role at the 1926 Imperial Conference and the 1930 Imperial Conference. In 1927 he goes to New York to represent the government at a hearing into the fate of republican funds in the United States. His career is the prime example of the influence of revolutionary veterans within the higher civil service in the early years of the state. After the change of government following the 1932 Irish general election, he is one of the very few senior civil servants who is effectively removed from his position. He is appointed to be a commissioner of public works, becoming chairman in 1949, a position he holds until his retirement in 1957. In 1939–40 he serves on the Economy Committee established by the government to advise on wartime spending, and in 1941 is a member of a tribunal of inquiry into public transport, which is principally concerned with the poor financial state of Great Southern Railways.

On April 27, 1922, with Michael Collins as his best man, O’Hegarty marries Claire Archer, daughter of Edward Archer, a post office telegraph inspector from Dublin, and Susan Archer (née Matthews). Her brother is William (Liam) Archer. They live at 9 Brendan Road, Donnybrook, Dublin.

O’Hegarty dies on March 14, 1958 in Dublin, leaving an estate of £5,441. His papers are in the University College Dublin (UCD) Archives.


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Birth of Activist Mary Ellen Spring Rice

mary-ellen-spring-riceMary Ellen Spring Rice, Irish nationalist activist during the early 20th century, is born into an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family in London, England on October 14, 1880.

Spring Rice is the daughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 2nd Baron Monteagle of Brandon, and a great-granddaughter of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon. Her maternal grandfather is the bishop, Samuel Butcher. She is brought up on the family’s Mount Trenchard estate overlooking the River Shannon. It is a progressive, liberal household and independence of thought is encouraged. So too is the Gaelic culture and, at home, she and her brothers are taught how to fluently speak the Irish language.

Before World War I, Spring Rice hosts many Irish nationalist and Conradh na Gaeilge meetings at her home, and she becomes a close friend of Douglas Hyde and her cousin Nelly O’Brien. During 1913 and 1914, she is actively involved in gun-running, most notably the Howth gun-running.

This involves helping to ship weapons to be used in an Irish uprising from Germany into Ireland. Together with Molly Childers, she raises £2,000 towards the purchase of 900 Mauser rifles from Germany, many of which are used in the 1916 Easter Rising. She sails on the Asgard to collect the guns and helps to unload them in Ireland.

During the Irish War of Independence, Spring Rice allows her Mount Trenchard home to be used as a safe house by Irish Republican Army fighters and the family boat is used to carry men and arms over the Shannon Estuary.

Con Collins stays with Spring Rice regularly. She helps train local women as nurses to tend to wounded nationalists and acts as an IRA message carrier between Limerick and Dublin. Throughout this time, she maintains her aristocratic façade and society connections, inviting senior Liberal Party politicians to Mount Trenchard to pressure them to support Irish independence.

Spring Rice starts to suffer from tuberculosis in 1923, and dies unmarried in a sanatorium in Clwdyy, Wales, on December 1, 1924. She is buried in Ireland, where her coffin is draped in the Irish tricolour and escorted by an IRA guard of honour.

(Pictured: Mary Ellen Spring-Rice and Molly Childers with the German guns on board Asgard, 1914.)