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


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Birth of Charlie Kerins, Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army

Charlie Kerins, a physical force Irish Republican and Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Caherina, Tralee, County Kerry, on January 23, 1918. He is one of six IRA men who are executed by the Irish State between September 1940 and December 1944.

Kerins attends Balloonagh Mercy Convent School and then the CBS, Edward Street. At the age of 13, he wins a Kerry County Council scholarship and completes his secondary education at the Green Christian Brothers and the Jeffers Institute. In 1930, he passes the Intermediate Certificate with honours and the matriculation examination to the National University of Ireland (NUI). He later does a commercial course and takes up employment in a radio business in Tralee.

In 1940, Kerins is sworn into the IRA and is appointed to the GHQ staff in May 1942. At the time, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera is determined to preserve Irish neutrality during World War II. Therefore, the IRA’s bombing campaign in England, its attacks against targets in Northern Ireland, and its ties to the intelligence services of Nazi Germany are regarded as severe threats to Ireland’s national security. IRA men who are captured by the Gardaí are interned for the duration of the war by the Irish Army in the Curragh Camp in County Kildare.

On the morning of September 9, 1942, Garda Detective Sergeant Denis O’Brien is leaving his home in Ballyboden, Dublin. He is between his front gate and his car when he is cut down with Thompson submachine guns. O’Brien, an Anti-Treaty veteran of the Irish Civil War, had enlisted in the Garda Síochána in 1933. He is one of the most effective Detectives of the Special Branch division, which has its headquarters at Dublin Castle. The shooting greatly increases public feeling against the IRA, particularly as the murder is carried out in full view of his wife.

Following the arrest of Hugh McAteer in October 1942, Kerins is named Chief of Staff of the IRA. Despite a massive manhunt by Gardaí, he remains at large for two years. He stays at a County Waterford home for two weeks while he is on the run, having given his name as Pat Carney. He is captured several months after he leaves the home.

Kerins had previously left papers and guns hidden at Kathleen Farrell’s house in the Dublin suburb of Rathmines. He telephones the house, as he intends to retrieve them. However, Farrell’s telephone had been tapped by the Gardaí. On June 15, 1944, he is arrested in an early morning raid. He is sleeping when the Gardaí enter his bedroom and does not have an opportunity to reach the Thompson submachine gun which is hidden under his bed.

At a trial before the Special Criminal Court in Collins Barracks, Dublin, Kerins is formally charged on October 2, 1944, for the “shooting at Rathfarnham of Detective Dinny O’Brien.” At the end of his trial, the president of the Military Court delays sentence until later in the day to allow Kerins, if he wishes, to make an application whereby he might avoid a capital sentence. When the court resumes, he says, “You could have adjourned it for six years as far as I am concerned, as my attitude towards this Court will always be the same.” He thus deprives himself of the right to give evidence, to face cross-examination, or to call witnesses.

Despite legal moves initiated by Seán MacBride, public protests, and parliamentary intervention by TDs from Clann na Talmhan, Labour, and Independent Oliver J. Flanagan in Leinster House, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera refuses to issue a reprieve. On December 1, 1944, in Mountjoy Prison, Kerins is hanged by British chief executioner Albert Pierrepoint, who is employed by the Irish Government for such occasions.

Kerins is the last IRA member to be executed in the Republic of Ireland. He is buried in the prison yard. In September 1948, his remains are exhumed and released to his family. He is buried in the Republican plot at Rath Cemetery, Tralee, County Kerry.


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Birth of Arthur Wolfe, 1st Viscount Kilwarden

Arthur Wolfe, 1st Viscount Kilwarden KC, Anglo-Irish peer, politician and judge, who held office as Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, is born on January 19, 1739, at Forenaughts House, Naas, County Kildare.

Wolfe is the eighth of nine sons born to John Wolfe (1700–60) and his wife Mary (d. 1763), the only child and heiress of William Philpot, a successful merchant at Dublin. One of his brothers, Peter, is the High Sheriff of Kildare, and his first cousin Theobald is the father of the poet Charles Wolfe.

Wolfe is educated at Trinity College Dublin, where he is elected a Scholar, and at the Middle Temple in London. He is called to the Irish Bar in 1766. In 1769, he marries Anne Ruxton (1745–1804) and, after building up a successful practice, takes silk in 1778. He and Anne have four children, John, Arthur, Mariana and Elizabeth.

In 1783, Wolfe is returned as Member of Parliament for Coleraine, which he represents until 1790. In 1787, he is appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland, and is returned to Parliament for Jamestown in 1790.

Appointed Attorney-General for Ireland in 1789, Wolfe is known for his strict adherence to the forms of law, and his opposition to the arbitrary measures taken by the authorities, despite his own position in the Protestant Ascendancy. He unsuccessfully prosecutes William Drennan in 1792. In 1795, Lord Fitzwilliam, the new Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, intends to remove him from his place as Attorney-General to make way for George Ponsonby. In compensation, Wolfe’s wife is created Baroness Kilwarden on September 30, 1795. However, the recall of Fitzwilliam enables Wolfe to retain his office.

In January 1798, Wolfe is simultaneously returned to Parliament for Dublin City and Ardfert. However, he leaves the Irish House of Commons when he is appointed Chief Justice of the Kings Bench for Ireland and created Baron Kilwarden on July 3, 1798.

After the Irish Rebellion of 1798, Wolfe becomes notable for twice issuing writs of habeas corpus on behalf of Wolfe Tone, then held in military custody, but these are ignored by the army and forestalled by Tone’s suicide in prison. In 1795 he had also warned Tone and some of his associates to leave Ireland to avoid prosecution. Tone’s godfather, Theobald Wolfe of Blackhall (the father of Charles Wolfe), is Wolfe’s first cousin, and Tone may have been Theobald’s natural son. These attempts to help a political opponent are unique at the time.

After the passage of the Acts of Union 1800, which he supports, Wolfe is created Viscount Kilwarden on December 29, 1800. In 1802, he is appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Dublin.

In 1802 Wolfe presides over the case against Town Major Henry Charles Sirr in which the habitual abuses of power used to suppress rebellion are exposed in court.

In the same year Wolfe orders that the well-known Catholic priest Father William Gahan be imprisoned for contempt of court. In a case over the disputed will of Gahan’s friend John Butler, 12th Baron Dunboyne, the priest refuses to answer certain questions on the ground that to do so would violate the seal of the confessional, despite a ruling that the common law does not recognize the seal of the confessional as a ground for refusing to give evidence. The judge apparently feels some sympathy for Gahan’s predicament, as he is released from prison after only a few days.

During the Irish rebellion of 1803, Wolfe, who had never been forgiven by the United Irishmen for the execution of William Orr, is clearly in great danger. On the night of July 23, 1803, the approach of the Kildare rebels induces him to leave his residence, Newlands House, in the suburbs of Dublin, with his daughter Elizabeth and his nephew, Rev. Richard Wolfe. Believing that he will be safer among the crowd, he orders his driver to proceed by way of Thomas Street in the city centre. However, the street is occupied by Robert Emmet‘s rebels. Unwisely, when challenged, he gives his name and office, and he is rapidly dragged from his carriage and stabbed repeatedly with pikes. His nephew is murdered in a similar fashion, while Elizabeth is allowed to escape to Dublin Castle, where she raises the alarm. When the rebels are suppressed, Wolfe is found to be still alive and is carried to a watch-house, where he dies shortly thereafter. His last words, spoken in reply to a soldier who called for the death of his murderers, are “Murder must be punished; but let no man suffer for my death, but on a fair trial, and by the laws of his country.”

Wolfe is succeeded by his eldest son John Wolfe, 2nd Viscount Kilwarden. Neither John nor his younger brother Arthur, who dies in 1805, have male issue, and on John’s death in 1830 the title becomes extinct.

(Pictured: Portrait of Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Arthur Wolfe (later Viscount Kilwarden) by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, between 1797 and 1800, Gallery of the Masters)


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Birth of Father Austin Flannery

Father Austin (Liam) Flannery OP, Dominican priest, editor, publisher and social justice campaigner is born Liam Flannery at Rearcross, County Tipperary, on January 10, 1925.

Flannery is the eldest of seven children produced by William K. Flannery and his wife Margaret (née Butler). He is educated at St. Flannan’s College in Ennis, County Clare, completing his secondary education at Dominican College Newbridge in Newbridge, County Kildare.

Flannery joins the Dominican Order in September 1944, leading to studies in theology at St. Mary’s Dominican Priory in Tallaght, Dublin, and then at Blackfriars Priory in Oxford, England. Joining the Dominicans he chooses the name Austin and is ordained a priest in 1950. He continues his studies at the Pontificium Athenaeum Internationale Angelicum in Rome. After his studies he teaches Latin at Newbridge College in Newbridge, County Kildare, and then theology at Glenstal Abbey in Murroe, County Limerick.

Flannery edits the Dominican bi-monthly journal entitled Doctrine and Life from 1958 to 1988, while at St. Saviour’s Priory, Dublin, where he also serves as prior from 1957 to 1960. He also edits the Religious Life Review. He publishes many English language documents on the Second Vatican Council.

Flannery’s campaigning to end apartheid in South Africa leads to involvement with Kader Asmal, and the founding the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, of which he serves as chairman and president. In the late 1960s his campaigning on behalf of the Dublin Housing Action Committee, due to its association with republicans and left-wing activists, leads him to being accused of being a communist. He is dismissed in the Dáil by the then Minister for Finance, Charles Haughey, as “a gullible cleric.”

Flannery dies of a heart attack at the age of 83 on October 21, 2008. He is buried in the Dominican plot at Glasnevin Cemetery in Glasnevin, Dublin.


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Death of Dennis O’Driscoll, Poet, Essayist, Critic and Editor

Dennis O’Driscoll, Irish poet, essayist, critic and editor, dies suddenly on December 24, 2012, in Naas, County Kildare. Regarded as one of the best European poets of his time, Eileen Battersby considers him “the lyric equivalent of William Trevor” and a better poet “by far” than Raymond Carver. Gerard Smyth regards him as “one of poetry’s true champions and certainly its most prodigious archivist.” His book on Seamus Heaney is regarded as the definitive biography of the Nobel laureate.

Born on January 1, 1954 in Thurles, County Tipperary, O’Driscoll is the child of James O’Driscoll and Catherine Lahart, a salesman/horticulturist and a homemaker. He is educated by the Congregation of Christian Brothers. After completing his secondary education in 1970 at the age of sixteen, he is offered a job at Ireland’s Office of the Revenue Commissioners, the internal revenue and customs service. Specializing in “death duties, stamp duties, and customs,” he is employed for over thirty years full-time. He lives in Naas, County Kildare, until his sudden death.

In the 1970s and 80s, O’Driscoll holds many part-time jobs and positions in association with his writing. He takes a position as part-time editor of Tax Briefing, a technical journal produced in Ireland, as well as reviewing poetry for Hibernia, and The Crane Bag. He also serves on the council of the Irish United Nations Association from 1975–80. After this, he marries Julie O’Callaghan, a poet and writer, in September 1985. He stays in the revenue business for as long as he does due to the advice of a colleague, who teels him, “If you ever leave your job, you will stop writing.” Thus, revenue becomes a sort of fall back option for him; a career that pays regularly and provides a pension. Whereas poetry is his art. Even so, in his memoir entitled, Sing for the Taxman, he states, “I have always regarded myself as a civil servant rather than a ‘poet’ or ‘artist’ – words I would find embarrassing and presumptuous to ascribe to myself.”

After thirty-eight years in Revenue, in early 2008, O’Driscoll is asked to write a poem marking the opening of the Revenue Museum in Dublin Castle, marking the first time his job and his art intermingle. This poem, At The Revenue Museum, which is originally brought to life to be printed in a program for the opening ceremony, now hangs as an exhibit in the museum itself.

Prior to the publication of his own poems, O’Driscoll publishes widely in journals and other print publications as both an essayist and poetry reviewer, for which he is very widely known. He writes nine books of poetry, three chapbooks, and two collections of essays and reviews. The majority of his works are characterised by the use of economic language and the recurring motifs of mortality and the fragility of everyday life. In 1987, he temporarily becomes a writer-in-residence at the National University of Ireland. He also serves for a short time as editor of Poetry Ireland Review.

O’Driscoll dies suddenly at the age of 58 on December 24, 2012. He is rushed to hospital after becoming ill but quickly succumbs to his fate. The arts world is shocked by his sudden demise. His wife and siblings – brothers Proinsias, Seamus, Declan, and sisters, Marie and Eithne – survive him.

President Michael D. Higgins notes that O’Driscoll is “held in the highest regard not only by all those associated with Irish and European poetry.” Joe Duffy, with whom O’Driscoll had appeared on air on the very week of his death, calls him a “generous, caring and witty man.” Fellow writer Belinda McKeon says he was “a scholar, a gentleman, a character, a friend.” English poet and critic David Morley describes him as a “fine poet and great critic.” Irish PEN mourns his death.


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Birth of Sir William Napier, Soldier & Historian

Sir William Francis Patrick Napier, a soldier in the British Army and a military historian, is born on December 17, 1785, at Castletown, near Celbridge, County Kildare.

Napier is the third son of Colonel George Napier and his second wife, Lady Sarah Lennox, seventh daughter of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond, and previously wife of Sir Charles Thomas Bunbury, MP. His elder brothers are General Sir Charles James Napier (1782–1853), the conqueror of Sindh, and General Sir George Thomas Napier (1784–1855), governor of the Cape Colony. He is a first cousin of Charles James Fox and also of Lord Edward FitzGerald.

Educated locally, he enters the British Army as an ensign in the Royal Irish Regiment of Artillery on June 14, 1800. Transferring to the 62nd (Wiltshire) Regiment of Foot, he is promoted to lieutenant on April 18, 1801, but is placed on half pay at the Treaty of Amiens in March 1802. He is promoted to captain in June 1804, transferring to the 43rd (Monmouthshire) Regiment of Foot in August, and in 1806 is sent to Ireland on a recruiting tour, with instructions to recruit men from the militia to serve in the line regiments. In July 1807 he serves with his regiment under the command of General Arthur Wellesley during the successful Second Battle of Copenhagen and is present at the Battle of Køge.

In September 1808 Napier sails with his regiment to Spain, where he serves throughout the Peninsular campaign of Gen. Sir John Moore. He is present at many of the major actions of the later campaigns, including the Combat of the Côa in July 1810, where he is wounded, the Battle of Bussaco on September 27, 1810, and the actions at Pombal and Redinha. At the action at Casal Novo on March 14, 1811, he is severely wounded while leading forward six companies of the 52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment of Foot in an effort to harass the rearguard of André Masséna‘s army. He later returns to the army, with his wound still open and a bullet lodged near his spine, and is appointed as brigade major to the Portuguese brigade. He takes part in the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro on May 3-5, 1811, and is promoted to major at the end of the month.

Succumbing to fever, Napier returns to England. During a period of leave, he marries his cousin, Caroline Amelia Fox, daughter of General Henry Edward Fox and niece of Charles James Fox in February 1812. After his leave he returns to Portugal and takes command of the 43rd (Monmouthshire) Regiment of Foot as senior major present. He subsequently serves in the battles of Salamanca on July 22, 1812, Nivelle on November 10, 1813, and Nive on December 10-13, 1813, which is Marshal Jean-de-Diew Soult‘s last attempt to drive the allied army from France. Promoted to lieutenant-colonel in November 1813, he is present at the Battle of Orthez on February 27, 1814, but has to return to England due to wounds and illness. He is subsequently awarded the gold and silver Peninsular medal, with two and three clasps respectively. Arriving too late in France in 1815, he takes no part in the ‘Hundred days’ campaign and retires from the active list in 1819. He is made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in the same year.

Napier devotes the rest of his life to historical writing, initially contributing an article to the Edinburgh Review in 1821. In 1823, at the suggestion of Henry Bickersteth, 1st Baron Langdale, he begins writing his History of the War in the Peninsula and the South of France, 1807–1814 (6 vols., 1828–40). This epic work, which runs to several editions, makes use of material supplied by both the Duke of Wellington and the French marshals Soult and Suchet, while papers of Joseph Bonaparte, captured after the Battle of Vittoria, are also made available to him. In July 1830 he is promoted to full colonel. Promoted to major-general in November 1841, he is appointed Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey (1842–47). Appointed colonel of the 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot in February 1848, he is made a KCB in May 1848.

Napier later publishes several works centred on his brother, Gen. Sir Charles James Napier, after the latter resigns as commander-in-chief in India. These include History of Sir Charles James Napier’s Administration of Scinde (1851) and Life and Opinions of General Sir Charles James Napier (4 vols., 1857). As both of these works seek to vindicate his brother, they are generally seen to be biased in the extreme. Subsequently promoted to lieutenant-general on November 11, 1851, and general on October 17, 1859, he spends his later years troubled by ill health. He dies on February 12, 1860, at his London residence, Scinde House in Clapham, and is buried at West Norwood Cemetery.

There is a fine marble statue of Napier in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. His letters are in the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

(From: “Napier, Sir William Francis Patrick” by David Murphy, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, October 2009)


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Death of Thomas Butler, Viscount Thurles

Thomas Butler, Viscount Thurles, drowns on December 15, 1619, off the coast of The Skerries, Isle of Anglesey. He is the son and heir apparent of Walter Butler, 11th Earl of Ormond (1559–1633), whom he predeceases. He resides at Thurles Castle, Thurles, County Tipperary. He is the father of the Irish statesman and Royalist commander James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond.

Butler is born the eldest son of Walter Butler and his wife Helen Butler. His father is the 11th Earl of Ormond. His mother is the eldest daughter of Edmund Butler, 2nd Viscount Mountgarret and his wife Grizel FitzPatrick. His father and mother are cousins. Their common great-grandfather is Piers Butler, 8th Earl of Ormond. Their family, the Butler dynasty, is Old English and descends from Theobald Walter, who had been appointed Chief Butler of Ireland by King Henry II of England in 1177.

Some time before 1610, Butler marries Elizabeth Poyntz against his father’s wishes. She is the daughter of Sir John Pointz (died 1633) of Iron Acton in Gloucestershire and his wife Elizabeth Sydenham. He and Elizabeth had seven children, three sons and four daughters:

In 1619 after the beginning of his father’s long imprisonment in the Fleet Prison, Butler is summoned to England to answer charges of treason, specifically, of having garrisoned Kilkenny. However, on December 15 the ship conveying him is wrecked off the coast of The Skerries, Isle of Anglesey and he drowns. Like his father, he is a prominent Catholic and it seems likely that his refusal to conform to the established Anglican religion had angered King James I, and may have been the true motive for his summons.

Butler predeceases his father who dies in 1634. His eldest son James, the future 1st Duke of Ormond, succeeds him as heir apparent and bearer of the courtesy title Viscount Thurles until he succeeds his grandfather as the 12th Earl of Ormond.


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Birth of Lady Louisa Conolly

Lady Louisa Conolly, an English-born Irish noblewoman, is born on December 5, 1743, perhaps at Goodwood House in Westhampnett, Chichester, West Sussex, England. She is the third of the famous Lennox sisters and is notable among them for leading a wholly uncontroversial life filled with good works.

Born Lady Louisa Augusta Lennox, she and her sisters are portrayed in Stella Tillyard‘s book Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox and in the BBC television series based on it. The Lennox sisters are the daughters of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond, and Lady Sarah Cadogan. The 2nd Duke’s father, Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond, is an illegitimate son of King Charles II of England.

Conolly is still a child when her parents die within a year of each other in 1750 and 1751. After this, she is brought up by her much older sister Emily FitzGerald, Duchess of Leinster, in Kildare. In 1758, at age 15, she marries Thomas Conolly (1738–1803), grand-nephew of William Conolly, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. Her husband, a wealthy landowner and keen horseman, is also a successful politician who is elected to Parliament as early as 1759. The couple lives in the Palladian mansion Castletown House in County Kildare, the decoration of which she directs throughout the 1760s and 1770s. The Conolly summer residence, Cliff House, on the banks of the River Erne between Belleek, County Fermanagh, and Ballyshannon, County Donegal, is demolished as part of the Erne Hydroelectric scheme, which constructs the Cliff and Cathaleen’s Fall hydroelectric power stations. Cliff hydroelectric power station is constructed on the site of Cliff House and is commissioned in 1950.

The Conollys, themselves unhappily childless, at that point take up the welfare of young children from disadvantaged backgrounds as a lifelong project, contributing both money and effort towards initiatives which enable foundlings and vagabonds to acquire productive skills and support themselves. They develop one of the first Industrial Schools where boys learn trades, and she takes active personal interest in mentoring the students. In middle age, she also virtually adopts her niece Emily Napier (1783–1863), the daughter of her sister Lady Sarah Lennox. Emily, who spends long months with her aunt in Kildare, marries Sir Henry Bunbury, 7th Baronet, and moves to Suffolk, although she remains close to her aunt until her death.

Thomas Conolly dies on April 27, 1803. Upon his death, a major part of his estates, which includes Wentworth Castle, passes to a distant relative, Frederick Vernon. Conolly receives the Castletown House and estate, as also certain liquid investments and valuable urban properties, which enable her to live in comfort and continue her activities until her own death on August 6, 1821, of an abscess on her hip. She wills these substantial properties to a great-nephew, Edward Michael Pakenham, grandson of Thomas’ sister Harriet, later the MP for Donegal.

In 1999, a 6-part miniseries called Aristocrats, based on the lives of Conolly and her sisters, airs in the UK.

(Pictured: “Lady Louisa Conolly” by George Romney, 1776)


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Birth of Rory O’Connor, Irish Republican Revolutionary

Rory O’Connor (Irish: Ruairí Ó Conchubhair), Irish republican revolutionary, is born in Kildare Street, Dublin, on November 28, 1883.

O’Connor is educated in St. Mary’s College, Dublin, and then in Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare, a public school run by the Jesuit order. It is also attended by the man who later condemns O’Connor to death, his close friend Kevin O’Higgins. He studies experimental physics, logic, and metaphysics. He also attends the College of Science, Merrion Street. He takes a BA (1906) and receives a B.Eng (1911). In 1910, he takes his Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Arts degrees at University College Dublin (UCD), then known as the National University. Prominent in the university’s Literary and Historical Society, he advocates militant constitutional nationalism as one of the many society members active in the Young Ireland branch of the United Irish League.

O’Connor goes to work as a railway engineer, then he moves to Canada where he is an engineer in the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian Northern Railway, being responsible for the construction of 1,500 miles (2,400 km) of railroad. He returns to Ireland in 1915 at Joseph Plunkett‘s request and works for Dublin Corporation as a civil engineer. He joins the Catholic nationalist organisation the Ancient Order of Hibernians and serves in the Easter Rising in 1916 in the GPO as an intelligence officer. He is wounded by a sniper during reconnaissance at the Royal College of Surgeons.

During the subsequent Irish War of Independence (1919-21) O’Connor is Director of Engineering of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a military organisation descended from the Irish Volunteers. The specialist skills of engineering and signaling are essential to the development of the 5th Battalion, Dublin Brigade. Its men are forbidden frontline duty as their contribution is regarded as vital, their number too small. But units only expand on an incremental local basis, disappointing General Richard Mulcahy.

O’Connor is also involved in the Republican breakout from Strangeways Prison in Manchester, England, on October 25, 1919. Michael Collins takes a particular interest in the escape, and actually visits Austin Stack in the prison under a false name to finalise the arrangements. IRA men hold up traffic while a ladder is propped up against the outside of a prison wall. In all six prisoners escape, among them Piaras Beaslaí.

O’Connor refuses to accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which establishes the Irish Free State. It is ratified by a narrow vote in Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament. He and many like him feel that the Treaty copper-fastens the partition of the six counties of Northern Ireland and undermines the Irish Republic declared in 1916.

On January 10, a meeting is held at O’Connor’s home in Monkstown, Dublin. In attendance are all senior anti-Treaty IRA officers except Liam Mellows. O’Connor is appointed to chair this grouping, known as the Republican Military Council. It is agreed that an IRA convention should be called without delay; failing this, a separate GHQ will be formed. At a further meeting in O’Connor’s office on March 20, a temporary IRA GHQ staff is elected under Liam Lynch as chief of staff. O’Connor remains in charge of engineering.

On March 26, 1922, the anti-Treaty officers of the IRA hold a convention in Dublin, in which they reject the Treaty and repudiate the authority of the Dáil. However, they are prepared to discuss a way forward. The convention meets again on April 9. It creates a new army constitution and places the army under a newly elected executive of 16 men, including O’Connor, that are to choose an army council and headquarters staff. Asked by a journalist if this development means the anti-Treatyites ware proposing a “military dictatorship” in Ireland, O’Connor replies, “You can take it that way if you want.”

On April 14, 1922, O’Connor is one of a number of IRA leaders in a 200-strong force that occupies the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the Provisional Government. They intend to provoke the British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them, which they believe will restart the war with Britain and re-unite the IRA against their common enemy. They also occupy other smaller buildings regarded as being associated with the former British administration, such as the Ballast Office and the Freemasons‘ Hall in Molesworth Street, but the Four Courts remains the focus of interest. On June 15, O’Connor sends out men to collect the rifles that belong to the mutineers of the Civic Guards.

Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade the IRA men to leave the Four Courts. At the Third IRA Convention on June 18, the Executive is split over whether the Irish Government should demand that all British troops leave within 72 hours. A motion to this effect, opposed by Lynch, is narrowly defeated, whereupon O’Connor and others leave the meeting to set up a separate GHQ. The IRA effectively splits into two factions opposed to the government.

On June 22, 1922, Sir Henry Wilson is assassinated in London by two IRA men, Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, each a former British soldier. Some now argue that this was done on the orders of Michael Collins, who had been a close friend of Dunne’s in the London Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). Prime Minister David Lloyd George writes an angry letter to Collins, which includes the line “…still less can Mr. Rory O’Connor be permitted to remain his followers and his arsenal in open rebellion in the heart of Dublin… organizing and sending out from this centre enterprises of murder not only in the area of your Government…”

On June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison has kidnapped J. J. “Ginger” O’Connell, a general in the National Army, Collins gives orders for the shelling of the Four Courts with borrowed artillery lent by Winston Churchill. The shelling leads to the Four Courts catching fire, damaging parts of the building in addition to destroying numerous government documents. O’Connor is one of 130 men that surrender on June 30, some of whom are arrested and imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison. This incident marks the official start of the Irish Civil War, as fighting breaks out openly around the country between pro- and anti-Treaty factions.

On December 8, 1922, along with three other republicans, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, captured with the fall of the Four Courts, O’Connor is executed by firing squad in reprisal for the anti-Treaty IRA’s killing of Free State Teachta Dála (TD) Sean Hales. The execution order is signed by Kevin O’Higgins. O’Connor had been best man at O’Higgins’s wedding on October 27, 1921. Their deaths remain a symbol of the bitterness and division of the Irish Civil War. O’Connor, one of 77 republicans executed by the Provisional Government, is seen as a martyr by the Republican movement in Ireland.

On O’Connor’s execution, the equestrienne Joan de Sales La Terriere, a close friend of his, names her son in his honour. “Rory O’Connor Place” in Arklow is named in his honour. There is also a pub in Crumlin, Dublin, named after him and a housing estate near Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, called “Rory O’Connor Park.” A Sinn Féin cumann (UCD) is named after him.

(Pictured: Rory O’Connor addressing members of the IRA’s Dublin City Brigade at Smithfield, April 1922)


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Death of Seumas O’Kelly, Journalist, Writer & Playwright

Seumas O’Kelly, journalist, fiction writer, and playwright, dies in Dublin on November 14, 1918, following a cerebral haemorrhage.

O’Kelly is born James Kelly in Mobhill, Loughrea, County Galway, youngest of seven (or possibly eight) children of Michael Kelly, corn merchant, and his wife, Catherine Fitzgerald. His date of birth is uncertain. Some commentators believe he is the James Kelly whose birth was registered on November 16, 1875, but relatives claim this was a sibling and namesake who died prematurely. His death certificate implies he was born in 1878, and family members maintained he was born in 1880.

Loughrea is at the centre of the bitterly-fought plan of campaign agitation on the Clanricarde estate from the late 1880s. Many tenants in the town and surrounding rural districts are evicted for non-payment of rent, and Lord Clanricarde resists reinstatement until the estate is purchased by special legislation shortly before World War I. According to one source, the O’Kellys are themselves evicted during the Plan of Campaign, though they seem to retain a degree of financial stability. A widespread perception that nationalist politicians had exploited the evicted tenants contributes to the relative strength of Parnellism in the area, and the early appearance of Sinn Féin. This background inspires such works as O’Kelly’s 1917 play, The Parnellite.

While growing up in Loughrea, O’Kelly is profoundly influenced by contact with older relatives and country folk from whom he learns some Irish and the folklore/storytelling tradition that shapes many of his stories. The example of his mother and friendship with the local Carmelite fathers, whom he serves as an altar boy, gives him a strong commitment to Catholicism. This coexists in his work with an Ibsenite-Parnellite insistence on individual defiance of conformity, and a gentle exaltation of the sensitive dreamer isolated from the life around him. The mixture is sometimes uneasy. His observations on domestic violence, the sexual exploitation of servant girls by hypocritically pious employers, and prejudice against children born outside marriage or raised in the workhouse are unobtrusive but biting. His play, The Bribe (1913), gives a devastating depiction of the social and economic pressures which induce a small-town shopkeeper and poor law guardian to accept a bribe to appoint an underqualified dispensary doctor, with disastrous results. The corrupt and snobbish doctor is called Power O’Connor, an unsubtle hit at the nationalist MP, T. P. O’Connor. This element of social observation distinguishes him from the more symbolist city-born Daniel Corkery, to whom he is often compared. Much of his writing is recognisably set in Loughrea.

O’Kelly begins working as a journalist on local papers, including the Midland Tribune, the Tuam News, and the Connacht Leader. He becomes editor of The Southern Star, based in Skibbereen, County Cork, in 1903, and is said to be the youngest newspaper editor in Ireland at the time. He moves to Naas, County Kildare, in 1906, as editor of the Leinster Leader. Here he lives in a house by the canal, which provides the inspiration for his linked series of short stories, The Golden Barque, along with his father, a nephew, and his brother Michael. Already a contributor to The United Irishman published by Arthur Griffith, and later its successor, Sinn Féin, he is active in the Naas Sinn Féin club and makes regular weekend visits to Dublin, where Griffith introduces him to Dublin literary circles. Here his closest friends are James Stephens, whose influence is visible in the more whimsical and fantastic elements of O’Kelly’s work, and Seumas O’Sullivan, who recalls O’Kelly as a man of remarkable gentleness and integrity.

O’Kelly’s journalistic career is accompanied by his development as a writer, publishing stories in a variety of outlets, including the Irish Rosary and the Irish Packet. From 1908 he has several plays produced by the Theatre of Ireland, a nationalist-oriented rival to the Abbey Theatre. Lustre (1913), written jointly with Casimir Markievicz, later becomes the basis for a Soviet film.

Around 1911, O’Kelly suffers a severe attack of rheumatic fever, which leaves him with a chronic heart condition and a strong sense of mortality. He continues to write extensively and with increasing skill. He becomes editor of Dublin’s The Saturday Evening Post in 1912 and moves to Dublin, where he lives in Drumcondra. At this time he is an occasional contributor to The Manchester Guardian, turning down a permanent job on that paper. He leaves the Post in 1915 because of continuing ill-health and is offered the editorship of The Sunday Freeman but has to retire after two weeks. He then returns to Naas. At this time his play Driftwood, commissioned by Annie Horniman, is produced in Manchester and London.

When O’Kelly’s brother is interned after the Easter Rising, he resumes the editorship of the Leinster Leader until his brother’s release at Christmas 1916. He also contributes topical articles to the Sunday Independent. His literary reputation continues to increase with a short story collection, Waysiders (1917), and his best-regarded full-length novel, The Lady of Deerpark (1917), a melancholy story about the last heiress of a declining Catholic gentry family. Another novel, Wet Clay (1922), is published posthumously and is the story of the tense relationship between a “returned Yank” and his small-farmer cousins, which shows deeply unresolved ambivalence about the nature and prospects of Irish rural society after the Land War.

When Griffith and many other Sinn Féin activists are arrested and imprisoned in May 1918, O’Kelly returns to Dublin to edit the Sinn Féin paper Nationality. During the days after the Armistice of November 11, 1918, a crowd of soldiers and women whose husbands are serving in the British Army attack the paper’s premises, which are also the headquarters of Sinn Féin. As a result of these attacks O’Kelly suffers a cerebral haemorrhage which leads to his death on November 14, 1918.

O’Kelly’s funeral turns into a major political demonstration and his status as a nationalist martyr leads to the posthumous publication of many of his works. These include the novella, The Weaver’s Grave (1920), generally regarded as his masterpiece. It has been reprinted regularly and translated into several languages. A 1961 Radio Éireann adaptation by Micheal Ó hAodha wins the Prix Italia. The twenty-fifth and fiftieth anniversaries of his death see various commemorations in his honour and a short-lived Seumas O’Kelly Society is founded in 1968. O’Kelly never marries but is said to have cherished a hopeless passion for the actress and nationalist activist, Máire Níc Shiubhlaigh, for whom he writes the play The Shuiler’s Child (1909).

(From: “O’Kelly, Seumas” by Patrick Maume, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, October 2009)


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Birth of Alice Curtayne, Writer & Lecturer

Alice Curtayne, Irish writer and lecturer, is born on November 6, 1898, in Upper Castle Street, Tralee, County Kerry.

Curtayne is the youngest child of John Curtayne, founder and proprietor of the Tralee Carriage Works, and his wife Bridget Curtayne (née O’Dwyer). She receives her initial education at local convents before attending La Sainte Union College in Southampton, England. Having taken a typing course, she is engaged as a secretary in Milan, where she remains for four and a half years. This proves to be a formative period in her life. She comes to regard Italy as a second home and is greatly influenced by the work of the Italian Catholic philosopher, Giovanni Papini.

On leaving Italy Curtayne works for a time in Liverpool. She joins the Liverpool Catholic Evidence Guild, from where she receives her diploma as a diocesan catechist. While in England she also develops an interest in public speaking. Her first book, Catherine of Siena (1929), is followed by numerous publications on religious and historical subjects, including Lough Derg (1933), Patrick Sarsfield (1934), The Trial of Oliver Plunkett (1953), Twenty Tales of Irish Saints for children (1955), and The Irish Story (1962).

Curtayne’s enthusiasm for Italy is reflected in her many publications of Italian interest, including a scholarly work on Dante, and a novel House of Cards (1940), which centres on the experiences of a young Irish woman living in Italy. In 1972 she produces Francis Ledwidge: A Life of the Poet, her well regarded biography of the poet Francis Ledwidge, and in 1974 it is followed by an edition of his complete poems, The Complete Works of Francis Ledwidge. Throughout her journalistic career she is a contributor to various magazines and papers, among them The Irish Times, Irish Independent, The Irish Press, Books on Trial, The Spectator, and The Standard.

During the 1950s and early 1960s Curtayne makes five lecture tours in the United States, speaking on Irish life, history, and literature. In 1959 she receives an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from Anna Maria College in Paxton, Massachusetts, where she briefly teaches. She is presented with the Key to Worcester City by Mayor James D. O’Brien. She also gives a course of lectures on Dante at Craiglockhart College, Edinburgh, in 1956, and in 1965 she again speaks on Dante in a Radio Éireann Thomas Davis lecture.

In December 1954 The Irish Press sends Curtayne to Rome to write daily reports on the close of the Marian year. She goes to Rome again for the final session of the Second Vatican Council. She is commissioned to send weekly reports to local newspapers, The Nationalist (Carlow) and The Kerryman. She also sends a series of profiles of outstanding personages of this Vatican Council to The Universe and an article for Hibernia journal.

In 1935, Curtayne marries the English-born writer and broadcaster Stephen Rynne, with whom she has two sons and two daughters. They run a farm at Prosperous, County Kildare, and are well known advocates of the values of rural living. One son, Andrew Rynne, becomes a medical practitioner and well known for his liberal views on birth control. Daughter Brigid Rynne later illustrates some of her mother’s books.

Curtayne dies on August 9, 1981, in the Hazel Hall Nursing Home in Clane, County Kildare, and is buried at Killybegs Cemetery.