seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Thomas Davis, Organizer of the Young Ireland Movement

thomas-osborne-davisThomas Osborne Davis, Irish writer and the chief organiser and poet laureate of the Young Ireland movement, dies from scarlet fever in Dublin on September 16, 1845.

Davis is born in Mallow, County Cork, on October 14, 1814, the son of a Welsh father, a surgeon in the Royal Artillery, and an Irish mother. Through his mother he is descended from the Gaelic noble family of O’Sullivan Beare. His father dies one month after his birth and his mother moves to Warrington Place near Mount Street bridge in Dublin. In 1830, they move to 67 Lower Baggot Street. He attends school in Lower Mount Street before studying at Trinity College, Dublin. He graduates in Law and received an Arts degree in 1836, before being called to the Irish Bar in 1838.

Davis gives a voice to the 19th-century foundational culture of modern Irish nationalism. Formerly it is based on the republicans of the 1790s and on the Catholic emancipation movement of Daniel O’Connell in the 1820s-30s, which has little in common with each other except for independence from Britain. Davis aims to create a common and more inclusive base for the future. He establishes The Nation newspaper with Charles Gavan Duffy and John Blake Dillon.

He writes some stirring nationalistic ballads, originally contributed to The Nation and afterwards republished as Spirit of the Nation, as well as a memoir of Curran, the Irish lawyer and orator, prefixed to an edition of his speeches, and a history of King James II‘s parliament of 1689. He has formed many literary plans which are unfinished at the time of his early death.

Davis supports O’Connell’s Repeal Association from 1840, hoping to recreate the old Parliament of Ireland. They split during a debate on the proposed new Queen’s University of Ireland, when Davis is reduced to tears by O’Connell’s superior debating skill. Davis is in favour of a university that would inclusively educate all Irish students. O’Connell and the Catholic hierarchy prefer a separate system for Catholic students within Ireland that would remain under church control.

O’Connell generally refers to his inexperienced allies as “Young Ireland,” initially as a dismissive term, that from the 1870s becomes the accepted term for nationalists inspired by Davis. He also prefers a federal arrangement with Britain in the 1840s while Davis seeks a greater degree of autonomy. Both agree that a gradual and non-violent process is the best way forward. Despite their differences, O’Connell is distraught at Davis’s early death.

Davis is a Protestant, but preaches unity between Catholics and Protestants. To him, it is not blood that makes a person Irish, but the willingness to be part of the Irish nation. He is to the fore of Irish nationalist thinking and it has been noted by later nationalist notables, such as Patrick Pearse, that while Theobald Wolfe Tone laid out the basic premise that Ireland as a nation must be free, Davis is the one who built this idea up promoting the Irish identity.

He is the author of influential songs such as The West’s Awake, A Nation Once Again and In Bodenstown Churchyard. He also writes The Lament for Owen Roe O’Neill.

Thomas Davis dies from scarlet fever on September 16, 1845, at the age of thirty. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.

 


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Start of the 3rd Leg of U2’s Joshua Tree Tour

the-joshua-tree-tourThe third leg of The Joshua Tree Tour, a concert tour by the Irish rock band U2, opens in Uniondale, New York‘s Nassau Coliseum on September 10, 1987. The tour is in support of their album The Joshua Tree, the band’s fifth studio album, which is released on March 9, 1987. The tour is depicted by the video and live album Live from Paris and in the film and partial live album Rattle and Hum.

The first leg of the tour takes place in American indoor arenas during April and May, beginning on April 2 at Arizona State University‘s Activity Center in Tempe, Arizona. The first leg finishes with five concerts at the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey on May 11-16.

The second leg plays in European arenas and outdoor stadiums from late May through early August, starting at the Stadio Flaminio in Rome on May 27. The final show of the European leg is at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork, County Cork on August 8.

The third leg returns to North American arenas and stadiums beginning in New York’s Nassau Coliseum on September 10. The tour ends on December 20 back where it started in Tempe, Arizona, but this time at Sun Devil Stadium.

The Joshua Tree Tour sells out stadiums around the world, the first time the band had consistently played venues of that size. The Joshua Tree and its singles become huge hits and the band reaches a new height in their popularity. Tickets for shows are often very hard to get, especially on the first American leg when they only play in arenas.

The 79 North American shows on the tour sell 2,035,539 tickets and gross US$35 million. In total, the tour grosses US$40 million and draws 3 million attendees.


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The Dromcollogher Burning

drumcollogher-cinema-fireForty-eight people die when a fire breaks out in a make-shift cinema on the upper floor of the village hall in Dromcollagher, County Limerick, on September 5, 1926.

The conversion of village halls into makeshift cinemas is a common practice in many rural villages in Ireland, right up to the 1940s. Prints are often borrowed from cinemas in larger towns or in Cork city, and then bicycled over to smaller venues (sometimes surreptitiously).

During the Irish Free State period (1922-1937), the exhibition of films is still governed by legislation put in place by the British government in 1909. The Cinematograph Act 1909 stipulates that cinema owners must apply for a license to screen films, and that venues must observe strict safety standards. Such standards include encasing projectors in fireproof booths, ensuring that the highly-unstable nitrate film, then the industry standard, be properly stored and handled, and fitting out venues with several fire exits. The regulations are generally observed by established cinemas but they are often ignored by operators of ad hoc venues/makeshift conversions.

The consequences of such indifference to patron safety are tragically realized in the small town of Dromcollogher in West Limerick in 1926. Situated a few miles from the County Cork border, its population is around 500 at the time, hardly enough to sustain a full-time cinema. However, local hackney driver, William Forde, identifies a business opportunity that seems too good to pass up. Through a contact, Patrick Downey, who works as a projectionist in Cork city’s Assembly Rooms cinema, he arranges for a print of Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical epic The Ten Commandments to be bicycled over for an unofficial one-off screening.

Forde rents the upstairs room of a venue on Church Street, later described by the Leinster Express as a wooden two-story structure, and advertises his evening’s entertainment. He finds a readymade audience among the churchgoers that come out of the service in the adjacent Catholic Church and straight into the hall, many with their rosary beads still entwined in their hands. It is estimated that 150 people crowd into the room and ascend the ladder to the upstairs room. Though Forde has been informed by one local Garda that he cannot run a screening unless the venue is equipped with fire blankets and exits, he and Downey disregard the advice and, in a bid to reduce the weight for the cyclist bringing the reels from Cork, instruct that the fireproof metal cases be left behind in the city.

A generator hooked up to a lorry is used to power the borrowed projector, and candles to illuminate the makeshift box-office. It is one of those candles, placed in close proximity to an exposed film reel, which sparks off a series of small fires that quickly developed into an inferno. Some of those seated closest to the main exit manage to escape, but those nearer the screen find themselves trapped and iron bars that had been placed on the few windows in the hall windows seal their fate. Whole families are wiped out and the final death toll comes to 48. As newspapers of the time report, 1/10th of the town’s population is lost.

Newspapers around the world carry reports of the tragedy and a relief fund is set up for the survivors with Hollywood star Will Rogers being one of the contributors. President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State William T. Cosgrave later travels to the town to attend the mass funeral service held for the victims.

As for Forde and Downey, they are later charged with manslaughter but the State chooses not to pursue the prosecutions. Forde apparently later immigrates to Australia and possibly accidentally poisons himself, and two others, while working as a cook in the Outback.

The “Dromcollogher Burning”, as it becomes known, holds the dubious honour of Ireland’s worst cinema fire. Sadly, it is not the last time safety regulations are disregarded in an entertainment venue: 75 years later the devastating Stardust Nightclub fire in Dublin also claims the lives of 48 patrons.

(From: “The Dromcollogher Cinema Fire,” http://www.corkmoviememories.com | Image Source: National Library of Ireland)


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Death of Feargus Edward O’Connor, Irish Chartist Leader

Zoomify http://137.73.123.18/ncse/liv/zoomify/ns_por13 x=1200 y=1734 maxzoom=3Feargus Edward O’Connor, Irish Chartist leader and advocate of the Land Plan, which seeks to provide smallholdings for the labouring classes, dies in Notting Hill, West London, England on August 30, 1855. He succeeds in making Chartism the first specifically working class national movement in Great Britain. A highly charismatic figure, he is admired for his energy and oratory, but was criticised for alleged egotism.

O’Connor is born on July 18, 1796 in Connorville house, near Castletown-Kinneigh in west County Cork, into a prominent Irish Protestant family. He is originally christened Edward Bowen O’Connor, but his father, the Irish nationalist politician Roger O’Connor, chooses to call him Feargus. He is educated mainly at Portarlington Grammar School and has some elementary schooling in England.

O’Connor, who claims royal descent from the ancient kings of Ireland, practices law but exchanges law for politics when he is elected to the British House of Commons as Member of Parliament for County Cork, as a Repeal candidate rather than a Whig. Unseated in 1835, he turns to radical agitation in England, although he continues to press Irish grievances and to seek Irish support. As a result of his humour, invective, and energy, he becomes the best known Chartist leader and the movement’s most popular speaker. His journal, The Northern Star, founded in 1837, gains a wide circulation.

O’Connor’s methods and views alienate other Chartist leaders, particularly William Lovett, but in 1841, after spending a year in prison for seditious libel, he acquires undisputed leadership of the Chartists. Failing to lead the movement to victory and vacillating in his attitude toward the middle class and toward the People’s Charter, a six-point bill drafted and published in May 1838, he begins to lose power, although he is remarkably elected to Parliament for Nottingham in 1847, defeating Thomas Benjamin Hobhouse.

The failure of the People’s Charter in 1848 marks the beginning of the end for O’Connor, whose egocentricity is already bordering on madness. In the spring of 1852 he visits the United States, where his behaviour leaves no doubt that he is not a well man. It is possible that he is in the early stages of general paralysis of the insane, brought on by syphilis.

In the House of Commons in 1852 O’Connor strikes three fellow MPs, one of them Sir Benjamin Hall, a vocal critic of the Land Plan. Arrested by the Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms, he is sent by his sister to Dr. Thomas Harrington Tuke‘s private Manor House Asylum in Chiswick, where he remains until 1854, when he is removed to his sister’s house. He dies on August 30, 1855 at 18 Albert Terrace, Notting Hill Gate. He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery on September 10. No fewer than 40,000 people witness the funeral procession. Most Chartists prefer to remember his strengths rather than his shortcomings.

(Pictured: Stipple engraving portrait of the Chartist leader Feargus Edward O’Connor by an unknown artist, mid 19th century, published in the Northern Star in December 1837)


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Birth of Otto Moses Jaffe, Lord Mayor of Belfast

otto-jaffeSir Otto Moses Jaffe, German-born British businessman who is twice elected Lord Mayor of Belfast, is born in Hamburg on August 13, 1846. He is the first non-Protestant to hold the office of Lord Mayor of Belfast.

Jaffe is born into a Jewish family, one of four boys and five girls born to Daniel Joseph and Frederiké Jaffe. In 1852, his parents bring their family to Belfast. His father, along with his older brothers, Martin, John and Alfred, set up a business exporting linen. He is educated at Mr. Tate’s school in Holywood, County Down, and later in Hamburg and Switzerland.

Jaffe marries Paula Hertz, daughter of Moritz Hertz from Braunschweig, on March 8, 1879. They have two sons, Arthur Daniel and William Edward Berthold Jaffe. Daniel Joseph Jaffé is his nephew, son of his brother Martin.

From 1867 to 1877 Jaffe lives and works in New York. In 1877, his brothers retire so he returns to Belfast to head the family business, The Jaffe Brothers, at Bedford Street. He builds it up to become the largest linen exporter in Ireland. He is a member of the Belfast Harbour Commission and becomes a naturalised citizen in 1888. In 1894, he successfully agitates for the reporting and destruction of shipwrecks in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Jaffe is a Justice of the Peace, a governor of the Royal Hospital, a member of the Irish Technical Education Board and a member of the Senate of Queen’s College, which later becomes Queen’s University Belfast. He is the German consul in Belfast. He is an active member of the committee which gets the Public Libraries Act extended to Belfast, leading to the first free library being established there. In 1910 he erects the Jaffe Spinning Mill on the Newtownards Road, also known as Strand Spinning. This provides work for 350 people, rising to 650 in 1914 when the company expands to make munitions. He is lavishly charitable and contributes to Queen’s College.

Jaffe takes a keen interest in the Jewish community of Belfast. He is life-president of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation, which worships at the Great Victoria Street, Belfast synagogue. His father established it on July 7, 1871. Between 1871 and 1903 the congregation increases from fifty-five to over a thousand. He pays most of the £4,000 cost of building the synagogue in Annesley Street. He opens it in 1904 wearing his mayoral regalia. Three years later with his wife, they set up the Jaffe Public Elementary School on the Cliftonville Road.

Jaffe is a member of the Irish Unionist Party. He represents St. Anne’s Ward for the Belfast Corporation in 1894 and is elected Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1899. As mayor, he launchs an appeal for the dependants of soldiers fighting in the Second Boer War. On March 5, 1900, he is knighted at Dublin Castle by George Cadogan, 5th Earl Cadogan, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1901 he is High Sheriff of Belfast and in 1904 is again elected Lord Mayor.

The outbreak of war sees anti-German sentiment and when the RMS Lusitania passenger liner is torpedoed by a German U-boat of the coast of County Cork on May 7, 1915, resulting in the death of 1,000 people, anti-German feeling in Britain and Ireland rise to breaking point. Even though he is loyal to the Crown, and his eldest son Arthur and his nephew are serving in the British Army, Jaffe is accused of being a German spy. Society women refuse support for the Children’s Hospital so long as Jaffe and his wife remain on the board. He is “overwhelmed with pain and sorrow.”

After twenty-five years of service, Jaffe resigns his post as Alderman of Windsor Ward for Belfast City Council in June 1916 when he is almost 70 years of age and takes up residence in London, where he dies on April 29, 1929. Lady Jaffe is too ill to attend his funeral and she dies a few months later, in August 1929.


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Birth of Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Actor & Model

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 82Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Irish actor and model, is born Jonathan Michael Meyers on July 27, 1977, in Dublin.

Rhys Meyers is born to Geraldine (née Meyers) and folk musician John O’Keeffe. The family moves to County Cork when he is almost a year old. At the age of three, his father leaves the family, leaving his mother alone to care for him and his three younger brothers.

Rhys Meyers grows up with a tumultuous childhood and attends North Monastery Christian Brothers school, from which he is permanently expelled at age sixteen. Happy to be out of school, he begins spending time in a local pool hall where he is discovered by Hubbard Casting. The casting agents are talent-spotting for the David Puttnam production of War of the Buttons (1994), and ask him to appear for an audition. After three days of auditions, however, he does not get the role and he gives up on his acting aspirations. Soon after the failed audition, he receives a call to audition for a national ad campaign for Knorr soup, and though embarrassed by the attention from the ad, he soon finds himself considered for a major film.

Rhys Meyers movie acting debut is a very small role in the film A Man of No Importance (1994), where his simple cast credit is as “First Young Man.” His first lead role is in the film The Disappearance of Finbar (1996). During a 6-month postponement in production, he returns home to Cork and there receives a call about the film Michael Collins (1996). He travels to Dublin to meet with director Neil Jordan and successfully wins the role of Collins’s assassin. Jordan writes about his meeting with the actor, “I have found someone to play Collins’s killer. Jonathan Rhys Meyers, from County Cork, apparently, who looks like a young Tom Cruise. He comes into the casting session with alarming certainty. Obviously gifted.”

In addition to his role in Michael Collins, Rhys Meyers is also known for his roles in the films Velvet Goldmine (1998), Bend It Like Beckham (2002), Alexander (2004), Match Point (2005), Mission: Impossible III (2006) and his television roles as Elvis Presley in the biographical miniseries Elvis (2005), for which he wins a Golden Globe Award and earns a Primetime Emmy Award nomination, as King Henry VIII in the historical drama The Tudors (2007–10), which earns him two Golden Globe Award nominations, and in the NBC drama series Dracula (2013–14) as the title character. He also stars as Bishop Heahmund in the History Channel television series Vikings.

Rhys Meyers continues to star in other films, such as Albert Nobbs in 2011. In 2013, he appears as the villain Valentine Morgenstern in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, based on Cassandra Clare‘s novel, The City of Bones. He appears in the 2015 film Stonewall, directed by Roland Emmerich, in 2017, stars in The 12th Man, and in 2018 wins the Best Actor award at the Manchester Film Festival for his starring role in Damascus Cover.

Rhys Meyers has been the face of several Hugo Boss advertising campaigns. He has also been involved in several charitable causes, including the Hope Foundation, and the children’s charity, Barretstown. He is married to Mara Lane and they have one son together. He still resides in County Cork.

In 2020, Rhys Meyers is listed as number 44 on The Irish Times list of Ireland’s greatest film actors.


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Birth of Edward Kenealy, Barrister & Writer

edward-kenealyEdward Vaughan Hyde Kenealy, Irish barrister and writer, is born in Cork, County Cork on July 2, 1819. He is best remembered as counsel for the Tichborne case and the eccentric and disturbed conduct of the trial that leads to his ruin.

Kenealy is the son of a local merchant. He is educated at Trinity College Dublin and is called to the Irish Bar in 1840 and to the English Bar in 1847. He obtains a fair practice in criminal cases. In 1868 he becomes a QC and a bencher of Gray’s Inn. He practises on the Oxford circuit and in the Central Criminal Court.

Kenealy suffers from diabetes and an erratic temperament is sometimes attributed to poor control of the symptoms. In 1850 he is sentenced to one month imprisonment for punishing his six-year-old illegitimate son with undue severity. He marries Elizabeth Nicklin of Tipton, Staffordshire in 1851 and they have eleven children, including novelist Arabella Kenealy (1864–1938). They live in Portslade, East Sussex, from 1852 until 1874. He commutes to London and Oxford for his law practice but returns at weekends and other times to be with his family.

In 1850, Kenealy publishes an eccentric poem inspired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe, a New Pantomime. He also publishes a large amount of poetry in journals such as Fraser’s Magazine. He publishes translations from Latin, Greek, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Irish, Persian, Arabic, Hindustani and Bengali. It is unlikely he is fluent in all these languages.

In 1866, Kenealy writes The Book of God: the Apocalypse of Adam-Oannes, an unorthodox theological work in which he claims that he is the “twelfth messenger of God,” descended from Jesus Christ and Genghis Khan. He also publishes a more conventional biography of Edward Wortley Montagu in 1869.

During the Tichborne trial, Kenealy abuses witnesses, makes scurrilous allegations against various Roman Catholic institutions, treats the judges with disrespect, and protracts the trial until it becomes the longest in English legal history. His violent conduct of the case becomes a public scandal and, after rejecting his client’s claim, the jury censures his behaviour.

Kenealy starts a newspaper, The Englishman, to plead his cause and to attack the judges. His behaviour is so extreme that in 1874 he is disbenched and disbarred by his Inn. He forms the Magna Charta Association and goes on a nationwide tour to protest his cause.

At a by-election in 1875, Kenealy is elected to Parliament for Stoke-upon-Trent with a majority of 2,000 votes. However, no other Member of Parliament will introduce him when he takes his seat. Benjamin Disraeli forces a motion to dispense with this convention.

In Parliament, Kenealy calls for a Royal commission into his conduct in the Tichborne case, but loses a vote on this by 433–3. One vote is Kenealy’s, another that of his teller, George Hammond Whalley. The third “aye” is by Purcell O’Gorman of Waterford City. During this period, he also writes a nine-volume account of the case.

Kenealy gradually ceases to attract attention, loses his seat at the 1880 general election and dies in London on April 16, 1880. He is buried in the churchyard of St. Helen’s Church, Hangleton, East Sussex.


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Birth of Architect Michael Scott

michael-scottMichael Scott, Irish architect whose buildings include the Busáras building in Dublin, Cork Opera House, the Abbey Theatre and both Tullamore and Portlaoise Hospitals, is born in Drogheda on June 24, 1905.

Scott’s family originates in the province of Munster. His father, William Scott, is a school inspector from near Sneem on the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry. His mother is from County Cork. He is educated at Belvedere College in Dublin. There he first demonstrates his skills at painting and acting. Initially he wants to pursue a career as a painter but his father points out that it might make more financial sense to become an architect.

Scott becomes an apprentice for the sum of £375 per annum to the Dublin architectural firm Jones and Kelly. He remains there from 1923 until 1926, where he studies under Alfred E. Jones. In the evenings after work, he also attends the Metropolitan School of Art and the Abbey School of Acting, and appears in many plays there until 1927, including the first productions of Seán O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock and The Plough and the Stars. On completing his pupilage he becomes an assistant to Charles James Dunlop and then has a brief spell as an assistant architect in the Office of Public Works.

In 1931 Scott partners with Norman D. Good to form Scott and Good, and they open an office in Dublin. They design the hospital at Tullamore (1934–1937) and Portlaoise General Hospital (1935). Between 1937 and 1938, he is the President of the Architectural Association of Ireland (AAI). He founds his company, Michael Scott Architects, in 1938. That same year he also designs his house Geragh, at Sandycove, County Dublin.

Scott’s most important pre-war commission is the Irish Pavilion for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. He produces a shamrock shaped building constructed in steel, concrete and glass. It is selected by an International jury as the best building in the show. As a result, he is presented with a silver medal for distinguished services and given honorary citizenship of the city of New York by then Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia. Other better known architects who design national pavilions for this World Fair include Alvar Aalto of Finland and Oscar Niemeyer of Brazil.

Scott has three major commissions from the Córas Iompair Éireann CIÉ, the Inchicore Chassis Works, the Donnybrook Bus Garage and, most famously, the Dublin Central Bus Station, to be known as àras Mhic Dhiarmada or Busáras. Though initially controversial, Busáras wins Scott the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland Triennial Gold Medal for Architecture.

Later, Ronnie Tallon and Robin Walker become partners, and the firm is renamed Scott Tallon Walker in 1975, shortly after the firm wins the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Royal Gold Medal.

Scott, who spends most of his life living at Sandycove Point, just south of Dún Laoghaire in south Dublin, dies in Dublin on January 24, 1989 and is buried near Sneem in County Kerry.


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Clare O’Leary Climbs Mount Everest

clare-o-learyClare O’Leary, Irish gastroenterologist, mountain climber and adventurer, becomes the first Irishwoman to successfully climb Mount Everest on May 18, 2004. She is accompanied by veteran mountaineer, Pat Falvey, who also sets a record by becoming the first Irishman to climb Everest from both sides.

O’Leary is born in 1972. She develops an interest in medicine, and cancer in particular, when her uncle dies from lung cancer during her childhood. After graduating from University College Cork, she spends over ten years training and working at the Cork University Hospital.

O’Leary makes her name in mountaineering in 2004, when she becomes the first Irish woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, having failed on her first attempt in 2003 due to gastroenteritis. She climbs as a member of the Wyeth Irish Everest Expedition, led by Falvey. She also becomes the first Irish woman to ascend the Himalayan peak Ama Dablam and to climb the Seven Summits — the highest mountains on each continent. In 2008, she joins the Beyond Endurance expedition led by Falvey to the South Pole, making her the first woman to successfully ski to the South Pole.

In 2012, O’Leary and Mike O’Shea set out on an ongoing series of expeditions that they call the Ice Project. Their aim is to cross all of the world’s largest ice caps. Some of these expeditions include crossings of the Northern Patagonian Ice Field, the Greenland ice sheet, and Lake Baikal. In 2014, they attempt to ski to the North Pole after their first attempt in 2012 is cancelled due to a logistics problem, hoping to be the first Irish people to reach the North Pole. This attempt also has to be abandoned after they are injured in a sled accident.

In 2013, the railway path between Bandon and Innishannon in County Cork is named the Dr. Clare O’Leary Walk to commemorate her achievements. In November 2018, she is awarded an honorary doctorate by National University of Ireland Galway.

O’Leary lives in Clonmel, and is in a relationship with O’Shea. She currently works as a consultant gastroenterologist and general physician at South Tipperary General Hospital. She is also a patron of the Cork University Hospital Charity.


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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.