seamus dubhghaill

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


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Explosion at Cronin’s Restaurant, Killarney

cronins-restaurantTwelve people are injured, none seriously, when gas tanks explode at the rear of Cronin’s Restaurant, in Killarney, County Kerry, on June 3, 2000.

At about 8:10 PM on a busy Saturday night, owner Pat Cronin smells gas in the restaurant and moves swiftly to evacuate all 30 guests. The people are moved out but, while standing on the pavement outside the restaurant, the restaurant explodes and twelve people are injured by flying debris and broken glass. They are transported to Tralee Hospital with four being detained overnight.

Gardaí and fire officers at the time believe that the explosion resulted from a domestic propane gas supply. The gas is piped from cylinders in a small, open backyard into the restaurant kitchen. The tank itself fails to explode and, had it done so, fire officers say that it would have taken out the whole building. The site is described by witnesses “for all the world like the aftermath of a bomb blast.”

Plates and cutlery remain undamaged on the tables in the aftermath of the explosion, while the downstairs glass and wood front of the building is blown onto the street. Locks are blown off the back doors of the adjoining Corcoran’s Tours shop and glass is shattered. A ceiling of an upstairs room in the nearby Fáilte Hotel partly collapses. The sides of two parked cars are damaged by the force of the explosion and by flying wood. Four ambulances and two units of the Killarney fire brigade are called to the scene. Nearby houses, hotels and pubs are evacuated for up to an hour and most of College Street is cordoned off for several hours.

Sergeant Ray Walsh, who attends the scene along with six gardaí, says, “They expected the worst themselves and, in fairness, they got the place evacuated.” Owner Pat Cronin receives deserved praise for showing the initiative and quick thinking in clearing the restaurant and saving people from serious injury or worse.

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Execution of James Cotter the Younger

cotter-family-burial-spotJames Cotter the Younger, the son of Sir James Fitz Edmond Cotter who had commanded King James‘s Irish Army forces in the Counties of Cork, Limerick, and Kerry, and Eleanor/Ellen Plunkett, daughter of Matthew, 7th Baron Louth, is executed on May 7, 1720 for high treason in supporting the Jacobite cause. His death is seen by many, especially within the Catholic population of Ireland, as a form of political assassination.

At the time of his death Cotter is seen, like his father before him, as the natural leader of the Catholics of Cork. He is also a prominent patron of poetry and other literature in the Irish language. The Irish text Párliament na mBan or ‘The Parliament of Women’ is dedicated by its author, Domhnall Ó Colmáin,’ to a young James Cotter in 1697. As one of the few major landowners of the Catholic faith remaining in Ireland, and as a man of known Jacobite and Tory sympathies he is distrusted by the authorities. He is also held in suspicion by those of his landed neighbours who are part of the Protestant Ascendancy and of Whiggish political views. Amongst his overt political actions he is believed to play a leading part in the instigation of the election riots of 1713 in Dublin. His trial, ostensibly for rape, is a cause célèbre at the time and widely seen as an example of judicial murder.

Though married, Cotter has a reputation as a ladies’ man. His wealth allows him to flaunt his independence of the Protestant ruling class and anti-Catholic laws of Ireland. These characteristics, allied to his political activities, lead to his downfall. He makes an enemy of a powerful neighbour, Alan Brodrick, 1st Viscount Midleton. Brodrick, it appears, arranges that Cotter be accused of abducting and raping a young Quaker woman named Elizabeth Squibb, reported by some to have been Cotter’s mistress. When news of this trumped-up or exaggerated charge reaches Cork City, the Quakers of the town live in fear of their lives for many weeks. Believing the charge cannot hold up in court, Cotter gives himself up to the Cork sheriff.

The judge presiding on the case is Sir St. John Brodrick who, as a close relative of James Cotter’s accuser, is hardly impartial. The jury has also been packed as all twelve of its members are justices of the peace. The trial takes place in a period of heightened rumour of Jacobite invasion. A large number of arms for cavalry are found in Cork which triggers a scare until it is discovered that they are government owned and intended for a local militia unit. James Cotter is held in jail, though bail has been granted, and is convicted of the crime.

A bizarre element in Cotter’s downfall are the pleas for mercy expressed by both the jury which has convicted him and Elizabeth Squibb, his alleged victim. Attempts to gain a pardon in Dublin are proceeding and a stay of execution is sent, however, the hanging is deliberately brought forward and the stay does not arrive in time. Cotter has attempted to escape and spends the night before his execution in chains. The gallows erected for the execution are destroyed by some of the citizens of Cork and the hanging is extemporised using a rope attached to a metal staple in a vertical post. James Cotter is hanged in Cork City on May 7, 1720. News of his execution triggers widespread riots on a national scale. He is buried in his family’s vault at Carrigtwohill.

Some have seen the death of James Cotter as the working of a family feud. His father had been intimately involved in the assassination of the regicide John Lisle in Switzerland (1664). The wife of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at the time of James Cotter’s trial is a granddaughter of John Lisle.

Up to twenty poems in Gaelic survive which reflect the widespread dismay felt at James Cotter’s execution, including ones by Éadbhard de Nógla, son of his close friend, the lawyer Patrick Nagle.

(Pictured: the Cotter Family burial vault in Carrigtwohill)


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Birth of Peig Sayers, Author & Seanchaí

peig-sayersPeig Sayers, Irish author and seanchaí, is born in the townland of Vicarstown, Dunquin, County Kerry, on March 29, 1873. Seán Ó Súilleabháin, the former archivist for the Irish Folklore Commission, describes her as “one of the greatest woman storytellers of recent times.”

Sayers is born Máiréad (Margaret) Sayers, the youngest child of the family. She is called Peig after her mother, Margaret “Peig” Brosnan, from Castleisland. Her father Tomás Sayers is a renowned storyteller who passes on many of his tales to Peig. At age 12, she is taken out of school and goes to work as a servant for the Curran family in the nearby town of Dingle. She spends two years there before returning home due to illness.

She spends the next few years as a domestic servant working for members of the growing middle class produced by the Land War. She plans to join her best friend, Cáit Boland, in the United States, but Boland writes that she has had an accident and can not forward the cost of the fare. Peig moves to the Great Blasket Island after marrying Pádraig Ó Guithín, a fisherman and native of the island, on February 13, 1892. She and Pádraig have eleven children, of whom six survive.

The Norwegian scholar Carl Marstrander, who visits the island in 1907, urges Robin Flower of the British Museum to visit the Blaskets. Flower is keenly appreciative of Sayers’ stories and tales. He records them and brings them to the attention of the academic world.

In the 1930s, a Dublin teacher, Máire Ní Chinnéide, who is a regular visitor to the Blaskets, urges Sayers to tell her life story to her son Micheál. She is illiterate in the Irish language, although she receives her early schooling through the medium of English. She dictates her biography to Micheál. He then sends the manuscript pages to Máire Ní Chinnéide in Dublin, who edits them for publication. It is published in 1936.

Over several years beginning in 1938 she dictates 350 ancient legends, ghost stories, folk stories, and religious stories to Seosamh Ó Dálaigh of the Irish Folklore Commission.

Sayers continues to live on the island until 1942, when she leaves the Island and returns to her native Dunquin. She is moved to a hospital in Dingle, County Kerry where she dies on December 8, 1958. She is buried in the Dún Chaoin Burial Ground on the Dingle Peninsula. Her surviving children, except for her son Micheál, emigrate to the United States and live with their descendants in Springfield, Massachusetts.


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The Headford Ambush

headford-ambushThe Headford Ambush is carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on March 21, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. The battle lasts almost an hour and fourteen people are killed – nine British soldiers, two IRA volunteers and three civilians.

The guerrilla war in County Kerry escalates rapidly in the spring of 1921. The county is occupied by the British Army, Auxiliary Division and Black and Tans paramilitary police, as well as the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). For the previous several months they have been burning suspected Republicans’ property and shooting suspected IRA sympathisers. By early 1921, they have begun rounding up male inhabitants of nearby towns and villages and searching for IRA suspects.

On January 23, in response to the IRA’s assassination of RIC District Inspector Sullivan, 1,000 soldiers and armed police surround Ballymacelligott, arrest 240 men and march them to Tralee for questioning. British forces, especially the Auxiliaries, also carry out a number of reprisal shootings of local civilians. The IRA sets up full-time guerrilla units, known as flying columns, to avoid arrest and to assemble units capable of taking on British patrols. IRA GHQ in Dublin also sends an organizer, Andy Cooney, to Kerry to oversee the setting up of flying columns. On March 2, under Cooney’s direction, the 2nd Kerry Brigade sets up its own flying column under Dan Allman and Tom McEllistrim. On March 5, McEllistrim leads 20 volunteers from the column to a successful ambush at Clonbanin, in which they co-operate with Cork IRA units, killing four British soldiers including Brigadier General Hanway Robert Cumming. Buoyed by their success in Cork, the 2nd Kerry Brigade tries on a number of occasions to ambush British forces in Kerry itself.

On March 21, an IRA party of the 2nd Kerry Brigade is billeted about four miles from the Headford railway junction when they hear that British troops are returning by train from Kenmare to Tralee. As the train does not go directly to Tralee, the British have to change trains at Headford, making them vulnerable to ambush. Allman, commanding 30 volunteers, reaches the junction only 12 minutes before the train, which is carrying 30 soldiers of the 1st Royal Fusiliers. The railway staff just has time to flee before the train pulls into the platform, where its passengers have to change trains for Tralee. Alongside the soldiers, the train is packed with cattle and pig farmers on their way back from the market in Kenmare. Most of the civilians have already got off when the British soldiers begin to disembark. Allman himself tries to disarm a Fusilier but shoots him when he resists. This is the signal for the IRA to open fire on the British troops.

One of the first British casualties is Lieutenant CE Adams DCM, who is shot dead when he appears at the carriage door, as are several other soldiers who are standing in front of the engine. The surviving British troops open fire from the train while those who have got off scramble underneath it for cover. In the ensuing close-quarter firefight, conducted at a range of just 20 yards, three civilians and two IRA volunteers, including Allman, are killed. Two-thirds of the British force is estimated to have been killed or wounded. Most of those killed are hit in the initial firing. Afterwards, the IRA gunmen have no direct field of fire into the troops who are hidden under the train.

MacEllistrim calls on the survivors to surrender and when they refuse, the IRA begins to move in to finish off those who keep shooting by throwing hand grenades under the train. Just as they are doing so, another train pulls into the junction carrying another party of British troops. The IRA column has used most of its ammunition and is forced to retreat, escaping toward the hills in the south.

(Pictured: British soldiers searching a train in County Kerry, 1921)


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The 1947 Blizzard

blizzard-of-1947The worst blizzard in living memory hits Ireland on February 25, 1947. The penetrating Arctic winds had been blowing for several weeks. Munster and Leinster had been battling the snows since the middle of January.

On the evening of February 24, a major Arctic depression approaches the coast of Cork and Kerry and advances northeast across Ireland. By morning, Ireland is being pounded by the most powerful blizzard of the 20th century. The winter of 1946-1947 is the coldest and harshest winter in living memory. Temperatures rarely rise above freezing and the snows that have fallen across Ireland in January remain until the middle of March.

Worse still, all subsequent snowfall in February and March simply piles on top of all that has previously fallen. There is no shortage of snow that bitter winter. Of the fifty days between January 24 and March 17, it snows on thirty of them.

“The Blizzard” of February 25th is the greatest single snowfall on record and lasts for almost fifty consecutive hours. It smothers the entire island in a blanket of snow. Driven by persistent easterly gales, the snow drifts until every hollow, depression, arch and alleyway is filled and the Irish countryside becomes a vast ashen wasteland.

Everything on the frozen landscape is a sea of white. The freezing temperatures solidify the surface and it is to be an astonishing three weeks before the snows begins to melt.

(Pictured: Snow drifts on Main Street, Boyle, County Roscommon, February 1947)


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Palmerstown House Burned by the IRA

palmerstown-housePalmerstown House in Johnstown, County Kildare, the home of Dermot Bourke, 7th Earl of Mayo, is burned and destroyed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on January 29, 1923.

The destruction of country houses in Ireland is a phenomenon of the Irish revolutionary period (1919–1923), which sees at least 275 country houses deliberately burned down, blown up, or otherwise destroyed by the Irish Republican Army.

The vast majority of the houses, known in Ireland as Big Houses, belong to the Anglo-Irish aristocracy of the Protestant Ascendancy. The houses of some Roman Catholic unionists, suspected informers, and members or supporters of the new Irish Free State government are also targeted. Although the practice by the IRA of destroying country houses begins in the Irish War of Independence, most of the buildings are destroyed during the Irish Civil War (1922–23).

Attacks are planned and organised, and generally focused on Irish peers who have sat in the House of Lords, members of the Senate of the Irish Free State and former Irish Unionist Party politicians. The assault on the “Big Houses” is part of a wider campaign against Free State supporters as a reprisal for the executions policy of the Government.

At least 76 country houses are destroyed in the War of Independence as thirty “Big Houses” are burned in 1920 and another 46 in the first half of 1921, mostly in the conflict’s Munster heartland which includes counties Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, Clare and Limerick. It is believed that 199 country houses are destroyed during the Irish Civil War. Some houses are destroyed in the fighting of the early months of the war, but the campaign against them begins in earnest in late 1922.

In most cases, no one is injured during the destruction of the house. It is recorded that in several cases, members of the IRA help the targeted family to remove their possessions from the house before it is destroyed. When Dermot Bourke’s house is attacked on January 29, 1923, he describes the IRA guerrillas as being “excessively polite” and apologetic. Nonetheless, there are incidents of violence and deaths in such attacks. The Church of Ireland Gazette records numerous instances of Unionists and Loyalists being shot, burned out or otherwise forced from their homes during the early 1920s.

Today, most of the targeted buildings are in ruins or have been demolished. Some have been restored by their owners, albeit often smaller in size, or have been rebuilt and are now used for other purposes.


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Death of Maurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond

fitzgerald-coat-of-armsMaurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond, Irish nobleman in the Peerage of Ireland, Captain of Desmond Castle in Kinsale, so-called ruler of Munster, and for a short time Lord Justice of Ireland, dies at Dublin Castle on January 25, 1356.

FitzGerald is the second son of Thomas FitzMaurice FitzGerald, 2nd Baron Desmond by his wife Margaret. His father dies in 1296 when he is still a child. He succeeds his elder brother Thomas FitzGerald, 3rd Baron Desmond as 4th Baron Desmond in 1307, and also inherits great wealth and large estates.

By 1326 FitzGerald’s influence is such that there are rumours of a conspiracy to make him King of Ireland. Modern historians tend to dismiss the story, on the ground that the alleged conspirators were other magnates who were more interested in increasing their own power than aggrandising FitzGerald.

FitzGerald is created Earl of Desmond by Letters Patent dated at Gloucester, England, August 27, 1329, by which patent also the county palatine of Kerry is confirmed to him and his heirs male, to hold of the Crown by the service of one knight’s fee. This is part of a Crown policy of attempting to win the support of the magnates by conferring earldoms on them.

In January 1330 FitzGerald is summoned by Sir John Darcy, Lord Justice of Ireland, to fight armed Irish rebels, with a promise of the King’s pay. It is FitzGerald who introduces the practice of Coigne and Livery, the quartering of troops on the inhabitants of the district they are sent to protect.

Accepting the King’s proposal, in addition to dealing with Munster and Leinster, FitzGerald routs the O’Nolans and O’Murroughs and burns their lands in County Wicklow and forces them to give hostages. He recovers the castle of Ley from the O’Dempsies, and has a liberate of £100 sterling dated at Drogheda August 24, 1335, in return for the expense he has incurred in bringing his men-at-arms, hobelars, and foot-soldiers, from various parts of Munster to Drogheda, and there, with Lord Justice Darcy, disperses the King’s enemies.

In 1331 there are further rumours of an attempt to make him King. Although there seems to be no foundation for them, the Crown takes them seriously enough to imprison FitzGerald for several months. He is released when a number of fellow nobles stand surety for his good behaviour.

In 1339 FitzGerald is engaged against Irish rebels in County Kerry where it is said he slays 1,400 men, and takes Nicholas, Lord of Kerry, prisoner, keeping him confined until he dies as punishment for siding with the rebels against the Crown.

The same year FitzGerald is present in the parliament held in Dublin. He is summoned by Writ dated at Westminster July 10, 1344, with Maurice, Earl of Kildare, and others, to attend the King at Portsmouth “on the octaves of the nativity of the Virgin Mary,” with twenty men-at-arms and fifty hobelars, at his own expense, to assist in the war against Philip V of France.

FitzGerald, who has long been acting “with a certain disregard for the niceties of the law” now decides on open rebellion. In 1345 he presides at an assembly of Anglo-Irish magnates at Callan, County Kilkenny, ignores a summons to attend the Irish Parliament and attacks Nenagh. He is a formidable opponent, and for the next two years his defeat is the main preoccupation of the Crown. He surrenders on a promise that his life will be spared. He is imprisoned and his lands forfeited. He is allowed to go under guard to England to answer the charges against him.

By no means for the last time, the Crown evidently decides that it can not govern Ireland without the magnates’ support. In 1348 FitzGerald is released, and pardoned in 1349. His loyalty does not seem to have been in question during the last years of his life.

In July 1355 FitzGerald is appointed Lord Justice of Ireland for life, dying, however, the following January in Dublin Castle. He is interred in the Church of the Friars-Preachers in Tralee.