seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Eileen Desmond, Labour Party Politician

eileen-desmondEileen Christine Desmond (née Harrington), Irish Labour Party politician who serves as Minister for Health and Minister for Social Welfare from 1981 to 1982, dies suddenly in Cork, County Cork on January 6, 2005. She serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1965 to 1969, 1973 to 1981 and 1981 to 1987. She serves as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Munster constituency from 1979 to 1984. She is a Senator for the Industrial and Commercial Panel from 1969 to 1973.

Desmond is born in Kinsale, County Cork on December 29, 1932. She is educated locally at the Convent of Mercy in Kinsale, where she is one of only two girls in her class to sit the Leaving Certificate examination. Before entering politics she works as a civil servant with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. She marries Dan Desmond in 1958.

Desmond is first elected to Dáil Éireann in a by-election on March 10, 1965, due to the death of her husband who had been a Teachta Dála (TD) since 1948. Her victory in the Cork Mid constituency leads Taoiseach Seán Lemass to dissolve the 17th Dáil and call a general election. She is elected for the second time in a year, but loses her seat at the 1969 general election. However she is then elected to the 12th Seanad on the Industrial and Commercial Panel, where she serves until her re-election to the 20th Dáil at the 1973 general election.

Desmond is elected to the European Parliament at the 1979 European Parliament election for the Munster constituency. However her time in Europe is short-lived, as she returns to domestic politics when she is offered a position as Minister and the chance to impact upon national legislation. At the 1981 general election she switches her constituency to Cork South-Central. A Fine Gael–Labour Party coalition comes to power and she is appointed Minister for Health and Social Welfare.

Desmond’s cabinet appointment is historic, as she is only the second woman to be a member of cabinet since the foundation of the state in 1922, and the first in any Fine Gael or Labour Party cabinet. Countess Markievicz had held the cabinet post of Minister for Labour in the revolutionary First Dáil in 1919, but only one woman had held cabinet office after the foundation of the state, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn of Fianna Fáil who was appointed as Minister for the Gaeltacht in 1979.

Desmond retires from full-time politics at the 1987 general election for health reasons. She dies suddenly in Cork, County Cork on January 6, 2005. Her funeral Mass takes place at Our Lady and St. John’s Church, Carrigaline with burial following in Crosshaven Cemetery.


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1918 Irish General Election

irish-general-election-1918Sinn Féin, pledged to an Irish Republic, wins 73 of 105 Irish Member of Parliament (MP) seats in the 1918 Irish general election held on December 14, 1918. Winners include Constance Markievicz who becomes the first woman elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. In 1919 she is appointed Minister for Labour, the first female minister in a democratic government cabinet.

The Irish general election is that part of the 1918 United Kingdom general election which takes place in Ireland. The election is now seen as a key moment in modern Irish history because it sees the overwhelming defeat of the moderate nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), which had dominated the Irish political landscape since the 1880s, and a landslide victory for the radical Sinn Féin party. The party had never stood in a general election, but had won six seats in by-elections in 1917–1918. Sinn Féin vows in its manifesto to establish an independent Irish Republic. In Ulster, however, the Unionist Party is the most successful party.

The election is held in the aftermath of World War I, the Easter Rising and the Conscription Crisis. It is the first general election to be held after the Representation of the People Act 1918. It is thus the first election in which women over the age of 30, and all men over the age of 21, can vote. Previously, all women and most working-class men had been excluded from voting.

In the aftermath of the elections, Sinn Féin’s elected members refuse to attend the British Parliament in Westminster. Instead they form a parliament in Dublin, the First Dáil Éireann, which declares Irish independence as a republic. The Irish War of Independence is conducted under this revolutionary government which seeks international recognition, and sets about the process of state-building.


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Birth of Suffragist Winifred Carney

winifred-carneyMaria Winifred Carney, also known as Winnie Carney, suffragist, trade unionist and Irish independence activist, is born into a lower-middle class Catholic family in Bangor, County Down on December 4, 1887. Her father is a Protestant who leaves the family. Her mother and six siblings move to Falls Road in Belfast when she is a child.

Carney is educated at St. Patrick’s Christian Brothers School in Donegall Street in Belfast, later teaching at the school. She enrolls at Hughes Commercial Academy around 1910, where she qualifies as a secretary and shorthand typist, one of the first women in Belfast to do so. However, from the start she is looking towards doing more than just secretarial work.

In 1912 Carney is in charge of the women’s section of the Northern Ireland Textile Workers’ Union in Belfast, which she founds with Delia Larkin in 1912. During this period she meets James Connolly and becomes his personal secretary. She becomes Connolly’s friend and confidant as they work together to improve the conditions for female labourers in Belfast. Carney then joins Cumann na mBan, the women’s auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers, and attends its first meeting in 1914.

Carney is present with Connolly in Dublin‘s General Post Office (GPO) during the Easter Rising in 1916. She is the only woman present during the initial occupation of the building. While not a combatant, she is given the rank of adjutant and is among the final group to leave the GPO. After Connolly is wounded, she refuses to leave his side despite direct orders from Patrick Pearse and Connolly. She leaves the GPO with the rest of the rebels when the building becomes engulfed in flames. They make their new headquarters in nearby Moore Street before Pearse surrenders.

After her capture, Carney is held in Kilmainham Gaol before being moved to Mountjoy Prison and finally to an English prison. By August 1916 she is imprisoned in HM Prison Aylesbury alongside Nell Ryan and Helena Molony. The three request that their internee status be revoked so that they could be held as normal prisoners with Countess Markievicz. Their request is denied, however Carney and Molony are released two days before Christmas 1916.

Carney is a delegate at the 1917 Belfast Cumann na mBan convention. She stands for Parliament as a Sinn Féin candidate for Belfast Victoria in the 1918 General Election but loses to the Labour Unionists. Following her defeat, she decides to continue her work at the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union until 1928. By 1924 she has become a member of the Labour Party. In the 1930s she joins the Socialist Party of Northern Ireland.

Following the Irish Civil War, Carney becomes much more disillusioned with politics. She is very critical and outspoken of Éamon de Valera and his governments.

In 1928 she marries George McBride, a Protestant Orangeman and former member of the Ulster Volunteers. Ironically, the formation of the Ulster Volunteers prompts the formation of the Irish Volunteers, of which Carney was a member. She alienates anyone in her life that does not support her marriage to McBride.

A number of serious health problems limit Carney’s political activities in the late 1930s. She dies in Belfast on November 21, 1943, and is buried in Milltown Cemetery. Her resting place is located years later and a headstone is erected by the National Graves Association, Belfast. Because she married a Protestant and former Orangeman, she is not allowed to have his name on her gravestone due to the religious differences.

In 2013, the Seventieth Anniversary of Carney’s death is remembered by the Socialist Republican Party. Almost one hundred people attend as a short parade follows, marking and commemorating the work she did for the cause. She is placed in high esteem among the other hundreds of radical women, who stand up for what they believe in, regardless of the consequences they face.


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Enactment of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918

parliament-qualifications-of-women-act-1918The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, is given royal assent on November 21, 1918. It gives women over the age of 21 the right to stand for election as a Member of Parliament (MP). At 27 words, it is the shortest UK statute.

The Representation of the People Act 1918, passed on February 6, 1918, extends the franchise in parliamentary elections, also known as the right to vote, to women aged 30 and over who reside in the constituency or occupied land or premises with a rateable value above £5, or whose husbands do.

In March 1918, the Liberal Party MP for Keighley dies, causing a by-election on April 26. There is doubt as to whether women are eligible to stand for parliament. Nina Boyle makes known her intention to stand as a candidate for the Women’s Freedom League at Keighley and, if refused, to take the matter to the courts for a definitive ruling. After some consideration, the returning officer states that he is prepared to accept her nomination, thus establishing a precedent for women candidates. However, he rules her nomination papers invalid on other grounds: one of the signatories to her nomination is not on the electoral roll and another lives outside the constituency. The Lords of Appeal in Ordinary are asked to consider the matter and conclude that the Great Reform Act 1832 had specifically banned women from standing as parliamentary candidates and the Representation of the People Act had not changed that.

Parliament hurriedly passes the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act in time to enable women to stand in the general election of December 1918. The act consists of only 27 operative words: “A woman shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage for being elected to or sitting or voting as a Member of the Commons House of Parliament.”

In the December 14, 1918 election to the House of Commons, seventeen women candidates stand, among them well-known suffragette Christabel Pankhurst, representing the Women’s Party in Smethwick. The only woman elected is the Sinn Féin candidate for Dublin St. Patrick’s, Constance Markievicz. However, in line with Sinn Féin abstentionist policy, she does not take her seat.

The first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons is Nancy Astor on December 1, 1919. She is elected as a Coalition Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton on November 28, 1919, taking the seat her husband had vacated.

As Members of Parliament, women also gain the right to become government ministers. The first woman to become a cabinet minister and Privy Council member is Margaret Bondfield who is Minister of Labour in the second MacDonald ministry (1929–1931).


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Birth of Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Fianna Fáil Politician

maire-geoghegan-quinnMáire Geoghegan-Quinn, former Fianna Fáil politician, is born in Carna, County Galway on September 5, 1950. She served as a European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science from 2010 to 2014 and as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Galway West constituency from 1975 to 1997.

Geoghegan is educated at Coláiste Muire, Toormakeady, in County Mayo and at Carysfort College in Blackrock, from where she qualifies as a teacher. She is married to John Quinn, with whom she has two children. Her novel The Green Diamond, about four young women sharing a house in Dublin in the 1960s, is published in 1996.

Her father, Johnny Geoghegan, is a Fianna Fáil TD for Galway West from 1954 until his death in 1975. His daughter successfully contests the subsequent by-election. From 1977 to 1979 she works as Parliamentary Secretary at the Department of Industry, Commerce and Energy. She serves as a member of Galway City Council from 1985 to 1991.

Geoghegan-Quinn supports Charles Haughey in the 1979 Fianna Fáil leadership election and is subsequently appointed to the cabinet post of Minister for the Gaeltacht. Thus, she becomes the first woman to hold an Irish cabinet post since 1922 (after Constance Markievicz had been appointed Minister for Labour in 1919 during the First Dáil) and the first woman to hold such a post in the history of the Irish state.

In 1982, Geoghegan-Quinn is appointed Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills. Her tenure is short because the 23rd Dáil lasts only 279 days, and a Fine GaelLabour Party coalition is elected at the November 1982 general election.

When Fianna Fáil returns to power after the 1987 general election, Geoghegan-Quinn becomes Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach. She expects a senior government position, but is disappointed. She resigns in 1991, in opposition to Charles Haughey’s leadership of the party. The following year Albert Reynolds, whom she backs for the leadership, becomes Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader. For her loyalty to Reynolds, she is appointed Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. She becomes Minister for Justice and Equality in 1993, in which post she introduces substantial law reform legislation, including the decriminalisation of homosexuality. She is also briefly acting Minister for Equality and Law Reform in late 1994, following the resignation of Labour minister Mervyn Taylor from Reynolds’ coalition government.

When Reynolds resigns as leader of Fianna Fáil in November 1994, Geoghegan-Quinn is seen as his preferred successor. In the resulting leadership election she stands against Bertie Ahern. A win would make her the first female Taoiseach. On the day of the vote, however, she withdraws from the contest “in the interests of party unity.” It is reported that she has the support of only 15 members of the 66-strong parliamentary party.

At the 1997 general election Geoghegan-Quinn retires from politics completely, citing privacy issues, after details about her 17-year-old son’s expulsion from school appeared in the newspapers. Other reports suggest that she sees her prospects for promotion under Ahern as poor, and a weak showing in constituency opinion polls indicate her seat could be in danger. She becomes a non-executive director of Aer Lingus, a member of the board of the Declan Ganley-owned Ganley Group, and writes a column for The Irish Times.

Geoghegan-Quinn is appointed to the European Court of Auditors in 1999, replacing former Labour minister Barry Desmond. She is appointed for a second term at the Court of Auditors in March 2006, and resigns on February 9, 2010. She is nominated by Taoiseach Brian Cowen to become Ireland’s European Commissioner in November 2009, and is subsequently allocated the Research, Innovation and Science portfolio.

In April 2010, after numerous calls are made over several days for Geoghegan-Quinn to surrender her pensions as an Irish former politician, which are worth over €104,000, while she remains in a paid public office, she does so.

In July 2015, it is announced that Geoghegan-Quinn will chair an independent panel to examine issues of gender equality among Irish higher education staff.


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The Execution of Tom Williams, IRA Volunteer

File source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vol._Tom_Williams.jpgThomas Joseph Williams, a volunteer in C Company, 2nd Battalion of the Belfast Brigade in the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is hanged in the Crumlin Road Gaol on September 2, 1942 for his involvement in the killing of Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) police officer Patrick Murphy during the Northern campaign.

Williams is born in the Beechmount area of Belfast on May 12, 1923. He is the third child in a family of six. After the death of his mother, he and his brother go to live with their grandmother at 46 Bombay Street in the Clonard area of Belfast. The Williams family has to leave the small Catholic enclave in the Shore Road area of Belfast after their house is attacked and burned.

As a child, Williams suffers from asthma and as a result is often very ill. He attends St. Gall’s Primary School but leaves at an early age to obtain work, which at the time is difficult due to discrimination. His work therefore consists of labouring and as a delivery boy.

As soon as Williams is old enough, he joins Na Fianna Éireann, the republican Scout Organisation founded by Constance Markievicz in 1909, becoming a member of the Con Colbert slua in the Clonard area. Alfie Hannaway, a friend of Williams, is his OC in Na Fianna, and assigns him to the rank of Quartermaster for the company. He takes his role in Na Fianna very seriously and all who came to know him are struck by his dedication and maturity, even at this early age.

At the age of 17, Williams is old enough to become a volunteer and joins C Company of the IRA in the Clonard area where he lives. Due to his “dedication and his remarkable ability” he is appointed to the role of Adjutant of C Company.

At Easter 1942 the government of Northern Ireland bans all parades to commemorate the anniversary of the Easter Rising. An IRA unit of six men and two women stage a diversionary action against the RUC to allow three parades to take place in West Belfast, but in this clash a RUC officer is killed and the six IRA men are captured. The RUC officer, Constable Patrick Murphy, a father of nine children, from the Falls Road area of Belfast, is one of a minority of Catholics serving in the RUC.

There is debate over the years about who actually fired the fatal shot. The six IRA members are convicted and sentenced to death for murder under the law of common purpose. Five have their sentences commuted. The sentence of Williams, who acknowledges that he is the leader of the IRA unit involved and takes full responsibility for the actions of his men, is not commuted.

Williams is hanged in Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast on the morning of September 2, 1942. The executioner is the official English hangman Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by his nephew Albert Pierrepoint. Afterwards Williams’ body is interred in unhallowed ground in an unmarked grave within the grounds of the prison. His remains are only released in January 2000 after the closure of the prison in 1996 and a lengthy campaign by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

Williams’s funeral is held on January 19, 2000 and is attended by thousands, with burial at Milltown Cemetery. Joe Cahill, Williams’s cell mate, and John Oliver, sentenced to death with Williams but later reprieved, as well as Madge McConville, who had been arrested with Williams, Greta McGlone, Billy McKee, Eddie Keenan and perhaps least known, Nell Morgan, Williams’s girlfriend at the time of his death, are all present. Six senior Sinn Féin members including Gerry Adams are also present in St. Paul’s Church on the Lower Falls Road for the Mass.

Williams is remembered in a ballad Tom Williams. Various recordings have been made, most notably by the Flying Column and Éire Óg, who preamble their version with the story of the campaign to release his body. The now disbanded, Volunteer Tom Williams Republican Flute Band from Glasgow, Scotland is named in his memory as is the Tom Williams Camogie Club in Belfast.

(Pictured: Tom Williams’ headstone at Milltown Cemetery after being reinterred)


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Cumann na mBan Rejects Anglo-Irish Treaty

cumann-na-mban

Cumann na mBan (Irishwomen’s Council), at the behest of Constance Markievicz, votes overwhelmingly to reject the Anglo-Irish Treaty on February 5, 1922. During the Irish Civil War, over 400 members of the movement are arrested by the Irish Free State Government.

Cumann na mBan is an Irish republican women’s paramilitary organisation formed in Dublin on April 2, 1914, merging with and dissolving Inghinidhe na hÉireann and, in 1916, it becomes an auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers. Although it is otherwise an independent organisation, its executive is subordinate to that of the Volunteers.

On January 7, 1922 the Anglo-Irish Treaty is approved by the Second Dáil by a close vote of 64–57. On February 5 a convention is held to discuss this, and 419 Cumann na mBan members vote against as opposed to 63 in favour. In the ensuing Civil War, its members largely support the anti-Treaty Republican forces. Over 400 of its members are imprisoned by the forces of the Provisional government which becomes in December 1922 the Irish Free State. Some of those who support the Treaty change the name of their branches to Cumann na Saoirse, while others retain their name but give allegiance to the Free State Government.

Cumann na mBan continues to exist after the Treaty, forming (alongside Sinn Féin, the Irish Republican Army, Fianna Éireann and other groups) part of the Irish republican milieu. The government of the Irish Free State bans the organisation in January 1923 and opens up Kilmainham Gaol as a detention prison for suspect women.

Its membership strength is adversely affected by the many splits in Irish republicanism, with sections of the membership resigning to join Fianna Fáil, Clann na Poblachta and other parties. Máire Comerford, a lifelong member from 1914, reflects in later years that it became a “greatly weakened organisation” that “gathered speed downhill” from the founding of Fianna Fáil in 1926.