seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Death of James Fintan Lalor, Revolutionary & Journalist

James Fintan Lalor, Irish revolutionary, journalist, and one of the most powerful writers of his day, dies at the age of 43 on December 27, 1849. A leading member of the Irish Confederation (Young Ireland), he plays an active part in both the Rebellion in July 1848 and the attempted Rising in September of that same year. His writings exert a seminal influence on later Irish leaders such as Michael Davitt, James Connolly, Pádraig Pearse, and Arthur Griffith.

Lalor is born on March 10, 1807, in Tinnakill House, Raheen, County Laois, the first son of twelve children of Patrick “Patt” Lalor and Anne Dillon, the daughter of Patrick Dillon of Sheane near Maryborough. His father is an extensive farmer and is the first Catholic MP for Laois (1832–1835). The household is a very political one where active discussion on national issues is encouraged.

Because of an accident when he is young, Lalor is semi-crippled all his life. He is not a very healthy young man and consequently is educated at home. In February 1825 he goes to St. Patrick’s, Carlow College. He studies chemistry under a Mr. Holt and the classics under Father Andrew Fitzgerald. While in college he becomes a member of the Apollo Society, where literature and music are studied, his favourite author at the time being Lord Bolingbroke. He suffers greatly through ill health during his time in college, and in February 1826, being ill and very weak he has to return home.

Lalor’s father is passionately opposed to the payment of tithes and urges Catholics not to pay. He supports this stand, but it is the land question and the power of the landlords to evict tenants that exercises him in particular. His father is also a great supporter of Daniel O’Connell and the Repeal movement. However, Lalor does not support the Repeal movement as he considers it to be flawed. As a result, a rift occurs between him and his father on this question. Such is the rift that he leaves home and spends time in Belfast and Dublin. He finally returns home due to ill health and heals his differences with his father.

It is while writing from home that Lalor achieves national prominence. He contributes articles to The Nation and The Felon. He advocates rent strikes and active resistance to any wrongdoings. His central theme is the rights of the tenant farmer to his own land. In his opinion, land reform is the biggest issue of the time. He writes articles such as “What must be done,” “The Faith of a felon,” “Resistance,” and “Clearing Decks.” It is he who says it is time for revolution and active resistance. This is especially evident during the famine years when tenants are being evicted for nonpayment of rent. As a result, he is arrested and imprisoned. Upon his release he continues to write. He is now a nationally acclaimed writer, revolutionary, and reformer.

Ill health once again curtails his efforts. An attack of bronchitis eventually brings about his early death on December 27, 1849, at his lodgings in Great Britain Street (now Parnell Street) at the age of 43. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

The James Fintan Lawlor Commemorative Committee, chaired by David Lawlor is formed in August 2005 to erect a memorial to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of James Fintan Lalor. Laois County Council provides the site; Irish Life and Permanent sponsors the project; the Department of the Environment provides half the cost. The bronze statue of Lalor holding a pamphlet aloft is sculpted by Mayo-based artist Rory Breslin. The inscription on the limestone plinth reads: “Ireland her own, and all therein, from the sod to the sky. The soil of Ireland for the people of Ireland.”

Michael Davitt considered Lalor “the only real Irish revolutionary mind in the ’48 period.” His ideas were the ideological underpinning of the Irish National League during the Land War.


Leave a comment

The Mountjoy Prison Helicopter Escape

The Mountjoy Prison helicopter escape occurs on October 31, 1973 when three Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers escape from Mountjoy Prison in Dublin aboard a hijacked Alouette II helicopter, which briefly lands in the prison’s exercise yard. The escape makes headlines around the world and is an embarrassment to the Irish coalition government of the time, led by Fine Gael‘s Liam Cosgrave, which is criticised by opposition party Fianna Fáil. A manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána is launched for the escapees, one of whom, Seamus Twomey, is not recaptured until December 1977. The Wolfe Tones write a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song,” which tops the Irish Singles Chart.

Following the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s, the Provisional IRA conducts an armed campaign that seeks to create a united Ireland by ending Northern Ireland‘s status as part of the United Kingdom. As a result of increasing levels of violence in Northern Ireland, internment without trial is introduced there in August 1971, and in the Republic of Ireland the coalition government led by Fine Gael’s Liam Cosgrave is attempting to curb IRA activity. Fine Gael had come to power on a law and order ticket, with a policy of “getting tough on crime.” Suspected IRA members are arrested and accused of IRA membership by a superintendent in the Garda Síochána, a crime under the Offences against the State Acts. They are tried at the juryless Special Criminal Court in Dublin, where the traditional IRA policy of not recognising the court results in a fait accompli as no defence is offered and IRA membership carries a minimum mandatory one-year sentence, resulting in internment in all but name. In September 1973 IRA Chief of Staff Seamus Twomey appears at the Special Criminal Court charged with IRA membership, and states, “I refuse to recognise this British-orientated quisling court.” He is found guilty and receives a five-year sentence. By October 1973 the IRA’s command structure is seriously curbed, with Twomey and other senior republicans J. B. O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon all being held in Mountjoy Prison.

The IRA immediately begins making plans to break Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon out of the prison. The first attempt involves explosives that had been smuggled into the prison, which are to be used to blow a hole in a door which will give the prisoners access to the exercise yard. From there, they are to scale a rope ladder thrown over the exterior wall by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade who are to have a getaway car waiting to complete the escape. The plans when the prisoners cannot gain access to the exercise yard and the rope ladder is spotted, so the IRA begins making new escape plans. The idea of using a helicopter in an escape had been discussed before in a plot to break Gerry Adams out of Long Kesh internment camp but had been ruled out because of faster and more sophisticated British Army helicopters being stationed at a nearby base. The IRA’s GHQ staff approves the plan to break out Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon, and arrangements are made to obtain a helicopter. A man with an American accent calling himself Mr. Leonard approaches the manager of Irish Helicopters at Dublin Airport, with a view to hiring a helicopter for an aerial photographic shoot in County Laois. After being shown the company’s fleet of helicopters, Leonard arranges to hire a five-seater Alouette II for October 31.

Leonard arrives at Irish Helicopters on October 31 and is introduced to the pilot of the helicopter, Captain Thompson Boyes. Boyes is instructed to fly to a field in Stradbally, in order to pick up Leonard’s photographic equipment. After landing Boyes sees two armed, masked men approaching the helicopter from nearby trees. He is held at gunpoint and told he will not be harmed if he follows instructions. Leonard leaves with one gunman, while the other gunman climbs aboard the helicopter armed with a pistol and an ArmaLite rifle. Boyes is instructed to fly towards Dublin following the path of railway lines and the Royal Canal, and is ordered not to register his flight path with Air Traffic Control. As the helicopter approaches Dublin, Boyes is informed of the escape plan and is instructed to land in the exercise yard at Mountjoy Prison.

In the prison’s exercise yard, the prisoners are watching a football match. Shortly after 3:35 p.m. the helicopter swings in to land in the prison yard, with Kevin Mallon directing the pilot using semaphore. A prison officer on duty initially takes no action as he believes the helicopter contains the Minister for Defence, Paddy Donegan. After prisoners surround the eight prison officers in the yard, fights break out as the officers realise an escape attempt is in progress. As other prisoners restrain the officers, Twomey, Mallon and O’Hagan board the helicopter. As the helicopter takes off, in the confusion one officer shouts, “Close the gates, close the fucking gates.” The helicopter flies north and lands at a disused racecourse in the Baldoyle area of Dublin, where the escapees are met by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade. Boyes is released unharmed, and the escapees are transferred to a taxi that had been hijacked earlier and are transported to safe houses.

The escape makes headlines around the world and is an embarrassment for Cosgrave’s government, which is criticised for “incompetence in security matters” by opposition party Fianna Fáil. An emergency debate on security is held in Dáil Éireann on November 1.

The IRA releases a statement on the escape, which reads, “Three republican prisoners were rescued by a special unit from Mountjoy Prison on Wednesday. The operation was a complete success and the men are now safe, despite a massive hunt by Free State forces.” Shortly after the escape Twomey gives an exclusive interview to German magazine Der Spiegel, where the reporter says people throughout Europe are joking about the incident as “the escape of the century.” Irish rebel band the Wolfe Tones writes a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song,” which is immediately banned by the government yet still tops the Irish Singles Chart after selling twelve thousand copies in a single week.

The escape results in all IRA prisoners being held at Mountjoy Prison and Curragh Camp being transferred to the maximum security Portlaoise Prison. In order to prevent any further escapes the perimeter of the prison is guarded by members of the Irish Army, and wires are erected over the prison yard to prevent any future helicopter escape. Cosgrave states there will be “no hiding place” for the escapees, and a manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána ensues.

Mallon is recaptured at a Gaelic Athletic Association dance in a hotel near Portlaoise on December 10, 1973, and imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. He escapes from there in a mass break-out on August 18, 1974, when nineteen prisoners escape after overpowering guards and using gelignite to blast through the gates. He is recaptured in Foxrock in January 1975 and returned to Portlaoise Prison. O’Hagan is recaptured in Dublin in early 1975, and also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. After the end of his original twelve-month sentence, he is immediately arrested and sentenced to a further two years imprisonment for escaping. Twomey evades recapture until December 2, 1977, when he is spotted sitting in a car in Sandycove by members of the Garda’s Special Branch who are investigating an arms shipment after a tip-off from police in Belgium. He drives away after spotting the officers, before being recaptured in the centre of Dublin after a high-speed car chase. He is also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison until his release in 1982.

In 2021, Brendan Hughes publishes an autobiography Up Like a Bird, an account of the planning and organisation of the escape, co-authored with Doug Dalby.


1 Comment

The Irish Rebellion of 1641

Rory O’Moore and Sir Phelim Roe O’Neill initiate a major revolt in Armagh on October 23, 1641. The Irish Rebellion of 1641 results in the deaths of at least 4,000 Protestants with Catholics massacred in reprisals over the ensuing six months.

The Rebellion comes about because of the resentment felt by the Irish Catholics, both Gael and Old English, in regards to the loss of their lands to Protestant settlers from England and Scotland.

Irish Catholics are frightened by reports that the Covenanter army in Scotland is considering an invasion of Ireland in order to eradicate the Catholic religion. At the same time, there is also a threat of invasion by Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans who are at war against King Charles I. It is hoped that the King would redress the complaints of the Catholics and halt or even reverse the policy of plantation. It is not an act of rebellion against the Royal domain.

The uprising is lead by Rory O’ Moore from Leix, with Sir Phelim Roe O’ Neill and his brother Turlough of Tyrone, the Maguires of Fermanagh, the Magennis, O’ Reilly and the MacMahons. They plan to begin the rebellion on October 23, 1641 with attacks on Dublin and various other British strongholds throughout the country. However, their plans are betrayed to the British by a native Irish convert to Protestantism, Owen O’ Connolly.

As a result of this betrayal, Dublin does not fall. However, the rebellion proceeds in the north with the towns of Dungannon, Newry, and Castleblayney, along with the fort at Charlemont falling to the rebels.

Most of the province of Ulster comes under the control of the rebel leaders. The rebel army, consisting of 30,000 men, has been instructed to take no life except in battle, to arrest the gentry and to spare the Scottish planters as they are considered kindred. For a week after the rebellion, these instructions are adhered to but many of the rebels have lost their lands to the Protestant planters and they want revenge. They attack farms and settlements, killing and turning many people away, robbing and stripping them of all their goods.

Sir Phelim O’ Neill has been himself thought to have ordered the murder of Protestants in Tyrone and Armagh. It is believed that about 12,000 people are slaughtered although contemporary reports put the death toll as much higher. It is thought that up to 30% of the Ulster planters lost their lives while 10% is the figure for the whole of Ireland.

As the rebellion progresses in Ulster there are uprisings in Leinster by November and thereafter throughout the whole of Ireland. In Munster, where many English settlers are planted, the rebels do not shed much blood but they do turn out these settlers, many of whom flee back to England.

In 1642 the Old English form an alliance with the Gaelic Lords at the Assembly of Killkenny. This alliance causes the rebellion to escalate into the Irish Confederate Wars which continue until Cromwell’s invasion and subjugation of Ireland (1649-53).

In 1642 the Scottish Covenanters invade the North and they, in turn, take to killing Catholics in revenge for the deaths of Protestants. The Covenanter Clan Campbell of Argyll takes the opportunity to attack and slaughter the Catholic Rathlin Islanders who belong to ancient enemies, Clan Mac Donald. The Covenanters also slaughter the approximately 3,000 Catholics on Islandmagee. Catholic prisoners and traders in Newry are murdered.

This ruthless slaughtering of civilians, by both sides, is only brought under control when Owen Roe O’ Neill arrives back from exile in France to take control of the Confederate army and, with Major General Robert Monroe in charge of the Covenanter Army, continues the war under the code of conduct that they had both learned on the Continent. However, the effects of the rebellion last to the present day, especially in Ulster where sectarian divide remains strong during The Troubles.

(Pictured: Depiction of the massacre of Ulster Protestants during the 1641 rebellion, The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)


Leave a comment

Birth of Lord Edward FitzGerald

Lord Edward FitzGerald, Irish aristocrat who abandoned his prospects as a distinguished veteran of British service in the American Revolutionary War, and as an Irish Parliamentarian, to embrace the cause of an independent Irish republic, is born at Carton House, near Dublin, on October 15, 1763.

FitzGerald is the fifth son of James FitzGerald, 1st Duke of Leinster, and the Lady Emily Lennox, daughter of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond. In 1773 his father dies and his mother soon afterwards marries William Ogilvie, who had been the tutor for him and his siblings. He spends most of his childhood in Frescati House at Blackrock, Dublin, where he is tutored by Ogilvie in a manner chiefly directed to the acquisition of knowledge that will fit him for a military career.

FitzGerald joins the British Army in 1779 and then becomes aide-de-camp on the staff of Lord Rawdon in the Southern theatre of the American Revolutionary War. He is seriously wounded at the Battle of Eutaw Springs on September 8, 1781, his life being saved by an escaped slave named Tony Small. He commissions a portrait of Small by John Roberts in 1786. He frees Small and employs him to the end of his life. He is evacuated from Charleston, South Carolina in 1782 when the British forces abandon the city.

In 1783 FitzGerald visits the West Indies before returning to Ireland, where his brother, William FitzGerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster, has procured Edward’s election to the Irish Parliament as an MP for Athy, a seat he holds until 1790. In Parliament he acts with the small Opposition Irish Patriot Party group led by Henry Grattan, but takes no prominent part in debate. In the spring of 1786 he takes the then unusual step for a young nobleman of entering the Military College, Woolwich, after which he makes a tour through Spain in 1787. Dejected by unrequited love for his cousin Georgina Lennox, he sails for New Brunswick to join the 54th Regiment with the rank of Major.

In April 1789, guided by compass, FitzGerald traverses the country with a brother officer from Fredericton, New Brunswick to Quebec, falling in with Indians by the way, with whom he fraternizes. He accomplishes the journey in twenty-six days, and establishes a shorter practicable route than that hitherto followed. The route crosses the extremely rugged and heavily forested northern part of the present state of Maine. In a subsequent expedition he is formally adopted at Detroit by the Bear clan of the Mohawk with the name “Eghnidal,” and makes his way down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, whence he returns to England.

Finding that his brother has procured his election for Kildare County, a seat he holds from 1790 to 1798, and desiring to maintain political independence, FitzGerald refuses the command of an expedition against Cádiz offered him by William Pitt the Younger, and devotes himself for the next few years to the pleasures of society and to his parliamentary duties. He is on terms of intimacy with his first cousin Charles Fox, with Richard Sheridan and other leading Whigs. According to Thomas Moore, FitzGerald is only one of numerous suitors of Sheridan’s first wife, Elizabeth, whose attentions are received with favour. She conceives a child by him, a baby girl who is born on March 30, 1792.

His Whig connections, together with his transatlantic experiences, predisposed FitzGerald to sympathize with the doctrines of the French Revolution, which he embraces enthusiastically when he visits Paris in October 1792. He lodges with Thomas Paine and listens to the debates in the Convention. While in Paris, he becomes enamoured of a young girl named Pamela whom he chances to see at the theatre, and who has a striking likeness to Elizabeth Sheridan. On December 27, 1792, he and Pamela are married at Tournai, one of the witnesses being Louis Philippe, afterwards King of the French. In January 1793 the couple reaches Dublin.

Ireland is by then seething with dissent which is finding a focus in the increasingly popular and revolutionary Society of the United Irishmen, which has been forced underground by the outbreak of war between France and Britain in 1793. FitzGerald, fresh from the gallery of the Convention in Paris, returns to his seat in the Irish Parliament and immediately springs to their defence. Within a week of his return he is ordered into custody and required to apologise at the bar of the House of Commons for violently denouncing in the House a Government proclamation which Grattan had approved for the suppression of the United-Irish attempt to revive the Irish Volunteer movement with a “National Guard.” However, it is not until 1796 that he joins the United Irishmen, who by now have given up as hopeless the path of constitutional reform and whose aim, after the recall of Lord FitzWilliam in 1795, is nothing less than the establishment of an independent Irish republic.

In May 1796 Theobald Wolfe Tone is in Paris endeavouring to obtain French assistance for an insurrection in Ireland. In the same month, FitzGerald and his friend Arthur O’Connor proceed to Hamburg, where they open negotiations with the Directory through Reinhard, French minister to the Hanseatic towns. The Duke of York, meeting Pamela at Devonshire House on her way through London with her husband, tells her that his plans are known and advises that he should not go abroad. The proceedings of the conspirators at Hamburg are made known to the government in London by an informer, Samuel Turner. The result of the Hamburg negotiations is Louis Lazare Hoche‘s abortive expedition to Bantry Bay in December 1796.

In September 1797 the Government learns from the informer Leonard McNally that FitzGerald is among those directing the conspiracy of the United Irishmen, which is now quickly maturing. Thomas Reynolds, converted from a conspirator to an informer, keeps the authorities posted in what is going on, though lack of evidence produced in court delays the arrest of the ringleaders. But on March 12, 1798 Reynolds’ information leads to the seizure of a number of conspirators at the house of Oliver Bond. FitzGerald, warned by Reynolds, is not among them.

As a fellow member of the Ascendancy class, the Government are anxious to make an exception for FitzGerald, avoiding the embarrassing and dangerous consequences of his subversive activities. They communicate their willingness to spare him from the normal fate meted out to traitors. FitzGerald however refuses to desert others who cannot escape, and whom he has himself led into danger. On March 30 the government proclamation of martial law authorising the military to act as they see fit to crush the United Irishmen leads to a campaign of vicious brutality in several parts of the country.

FitzGerald’s social position makes him the most important United Irish leader still at liberty. On May 9 a reward of £1,000 is offered by Dublin Castle for his apprehension. Since the arrests at Bond’s house, he has been in hiding. The date for the rising is finally fixed for May 23 and FitzGerald awaits the day hidden by Mary Moore above her family’s inn in Thomas Street, Dublin.

Tipped off that the house is going to be raided, Moore turns to Francis Magan, a Catholic barrister and trusted sympathiser, who agrees to hide Fitzgerald. Making its way to Magan’s house on May 18, Fitzgerald’s party is challenged by Major Henry Sirr and a company of Dumbarton Fencibles. Moore escapes with Fitzgerald and takes him back to Thomas Street to the house of Nicholas Murphy.

Moore explains to Magan what had happened and, unbeknownst to her, Magan informs Dublin Castle. The Moore house is raided that day. Mary, running to warn the Leinster Directory meeting nearby in James’s Gate, receives a bayonet cut across the shoulders. That same evening Sirr storms Murphy’s house where FitzGerald is in bed suffering from a fever. Alerted by the commotion, he jumps out of bed and, ignoring the pleas of the arresting officers to surrender peacefully, he stabs one and mortally wounds the other with a dagger in a desperate attempt to escape. He is secured only after Major Sirr shoots him in the shoulder.

FitzGerald is conveyed to New Prison, Dublin where he is denied proper medical treatment. After a brief detention in Dublin Castle he is taken to Newgate Prison, Dublin where his wound, which has become infected, becomes mortally inflamed. His wife, whom the government probably has enough evidence to convict of treason, has fled the country, never to see her husband again, but FitzGerald’s brother Henry and his aunt Lady Louisa Conolly are allowed to see him in his last moments. He dies at the age of 34 on June 4, 1798, as the rebellion rages outside. He is buried the next day in the cemetery of St. Werburgh’s Church, Dublin. An Act of Attainder confiscating his property is passed as 38 Geo. 3 c. 77, but is eventually repealed in 1819.

There are Lord Edward Streets named in FitzGerald’s honour in many places in Ireland, such as Dublin, Limerick, Sligo, Kilkenny, Ballina, Ballymote, and Ballycullenbeg in County Laois. The County Roscommon GAA club Tulsk Lord Edward’s and the Geraldines P. Moran’s GAA club in Cornelscourt, Dublin, are named after him.


Leave a comment

The Great Portlaoise Escape

Nineteen republican prisoners blast their way out of Portlaoise Prison in County Laois on August 18, 1974.

The escape is a timely reminder of the determination, tenacity and ingenuity with which Irish Republican Army (IRA) Volunteers throughout the country fight against British rule in Ireland. It is also a reminder to the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government in Leinster House that their collaboration with the British and their attempts to defeat republicanism will not be an easy task.

The determination of republicans to escape from Portlaoise is demonstrated by the escape. In May 1974, an underground escape was planned but the 80-foot tunnel was uncovered and the prisoners’ hopes were dashed. However, almost immediately plans swung into place for a more daring escape operation.

A member of the Escape Committee spots a weakness in the jail security in the area of the prison where the laundry house is situated. The laundry leads to an outside stairway and down into the courtyard, where the Governor’s House and Warders’ Mess are located.

The prisoners discover that they can gain access to the laundry area quite easily. It is a doorway at the top of the courtyard which leads out onto the streets of Portlaoise town itself that give the prisoners hope that their plan will work. However, the Escape Committee decides that they need explosives to get through this gate and send word outside to this effect. The IRA on the outside, agreeing that the plan is “viable,” send in the materials and the plan is on.

The date for the escape is set for August 18, 1974 and planning proceeds inside the prison. The prisoners set themselves to work making prison guard uniforms. The idea is that when the escapees are running through the courtyard, the troops on the roof of the jail will not be able to distinguish between the escapees and the real guards and so will not open fire. This pre-planning proves to be a brilliant ploy as it gives those escaping vital seconds to clear the courtyard and make good their escape.

On the Friday before the plan is to proceed, a number of republicans are arrested in Portlaoise. This seems a bad omen and raises questions as to whether the authorities are suspicious that an escape is planned. However, the Escape Committee and those involved in the operation decide to press ahead with the plan anyway.

Sunday, August 18 duly arrives. According to prisoners who are in Portlaoise Prison at the time, no one can eat anything that day as the tension is unbearable. At 12:30 p.m., the designated time to put the plan into action, arrives and Liam Brown approaches the guard at the gate of the lower landing and asks to be let in. This is the signal for the first team of escapees to rush forward and get the key to the laundry. The guard is quickly overpowered and gives up the key with little resistance.

With this first stage of the plan successfully completed, the escapees open the door to the stairwell and rush through to the courtyard, followed by up to 25 other prisoners. As the prisoners race to the top of the yard to place the bomb at the outside gate, the soldiers on the roof are confused by the uniforms and cannot open fire.

The bomb then explodes, blasting the door to pieces. As the prisoners make the final dash for freedom, the soldiers fire warning shots over the heads of the fleeing republicans. Some of the prisoners drop to the ground fearing the worst but as the guards race from their mess they call on the soldiers to stop firing.

Those who are captured are brought into the Wing again and the governor demands a head count. The prisoners, however, refuse to comply, adding to the confusion and thwarting the prison authorities’ attempts to identify the escapees. It is only after the guards threaten to send in the riot squad several hours later that the prisoners allow a head count to be taken. When they realise that 19 men had escaped, the joy the prisoner experience is immense as they thought only 14 had got away.

In an attempt to capture the escapees, the Dublin Government launches a statewide search operation. Every outhouse in County Wexford is searched. The Irish Naval Service is even called in and put on the alert. The searches go on for over a week but to no avail. The nineteen men had gotten clean away.

Those who escape are Liam Brown, Paddy Devenny and Micky Nolan from Belfast; Tom McFeely and Ian Milne from County Derry; Thomas McGinty and Eddie Gallagher from County Donegal; Patrick Thornberry, Kevin McAllister and Martin McAllister from County Armagh; Francis Hughes and Kevin Mallon from County Tyrone; Oliver McKiernan from County Fermanagh; Bernard Hegarty and Sam O’Hare from County Louth; Michael Kinsella and Seán Kinsella from County Monaghan; Seán Morris from County Meath; and Tony Weldon from Dublin.

(From: “30 years on: The Great Portlaoise Escape,” An Phoblacht, http://www.anphoblacht.com, August 26, 2004)


Leave a comment

Assassination of Kevin O’Higgins, Politician, by the IRA

Kevin Christopher O’Higgins, Irish politician who serves as Vice-President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State and Minister for Justice from 1922 to 1927, is assassinated by an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit in Booterstown, County Dublin, on July 10, 1927. He also serves as Minister for Economic Affairs from January 1922 to September 1922 and Minister for External Affairs from June 1927 to July 1927. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1921 to 1927 and is a Member of Parliament (MP) for Queen’s County from 1918 to 1921.

A man of intellectual power, O’Higgins is described by William Butler Yeats as “a great man in his pride confronting murderous men.” He is in fact murdered by maverick republicans while on his way to church.

O’Higgins is born in Stradbally, Queen’s County (County Laois since 1922) on June 7, 1892. Educated at University College Dublin, he is apprenticed to his uncle, a lawyer. Following the Easter Rising in 1916, he joins the Sinn Féin nationalist movement and is imprisoned. In 1918, while still in jail, he is elected to Parliament from Queen’s County, and in the next year he becomes assistant to the minister of local government, William Thomas Cosgrave. He goes on to become a prominent member of Cumann na nGaedheal.

O’Higgins supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty with Great Britain that creates the Irish Free State. In 1922 he is appointed Minister for Economic Affairs and Vice-President of the Executive Council. He helps to draft the Constitution of the Irish Free State and secures its passage through Dáil Éireann, lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament. Working for a united Ireland within the British Commonwealth, he plays an important part in the 1926 Imperial Conference. He also prominently represents the Free State in the League of Nations.

As Minister for Justice, O’Higgins establishes the Garda Síochána police force and takes summary measures to restore order following the civil war between the Free State forces and the Irish Republican Army. His role in the execution of 77 republicans in 1922–23 makes him many enemies, as does his sardonic wit, his inflammatory speeches during the civil war, and his curtailment of the liquor trade.

On Sunday, July 10, 1927, O’Higgins is assassinated at the age of 35 on the Booterstown Avenue side of Cross Avenue in Booterstown, a coastal suburb of Dublin, while on his way to Mass at the Church of the Assumption. The assassination is carried out by three anti-Treaty members of the IRA, Timothy Coughlan, Bill Gannon and Archie Doyle, in revenge for O’Higgins’ part in the executions of the 77 IRA prisoners during the Irish Civil War.

None of the three assassins is ever apprehended or charged, but Coughlan, a member of Fianna Fáil as well as the IRA, is killed in 1928 in Dublin by a police undercover agent whom he is attempting to murder. The other two benefit from the amnesty to IRA members issued by Éamon de Valera, upon his assumption of power in 1932. Gannon, who dies in 1965, joins the Communist Party of Ireland and plays a central role in organising Irish volunteers for the Spanish Civil War. Doyle remains a prominent IRA militant and takes part in various acts in the early 1940s. He lives to an old age, dying in 1980, and continues to take pride in having killed O’Higgins.


Leave a comment

Birth of Ophthalmologist Arthur Jacob

Arthur Jacob, Irish ophthalmologist, is born on June 13, 1790, at Knockfin, near Maryborough, Queens County (now Portlaoise, County Laois). He is known for founding several hospitals, a medical school, and a medical journal. He contributes to science and academia through his 41-year term as Professor of Anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and as the first Irish ocular pathologist. He is elected President of RCSI in 1837 and 1864.

Jacob is the second son of John Jacob, M.D. (1754–1827), surgeon to the Queen’s County infirmary, Maryborough, by his wife Grace (1765–1835), only child of Jerome Alley of Donoughmore. He studies medicine with his father and at Dr. Steevens’s Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin, under Abraham Colles. Having graduated M.D. at the University of Edinburgh in 1814, he sets out on a walking tour through the United Kingdom, crossing the English Channel at Dover, and continuing his walk from Calais to Paris.

Jacob studies at Paris until Napoleon‘s return from Elba. He subsequently pursues his studies in London under Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie, Sir Astley Cooper, and Sir W. Lawrence. In 1819 he returns to Dublin, and becomes demonstrator of anatomy under Dr. James Macartney at Trinity College Dublin. Here his anatomical researches gain for him a reputation, and he collects a museum, which Macartney afterwards sells to the University of Cambridge.

On leaving Macartney, Jacob joins with Robert James Graves and others in founding the Park Street School of Medicine. In 1826 he is elected Professor of Anatomy and Physiology at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), and holds the chair until 1869. He is elected President of RCSI in 1837 and 1864. He founds an Ophthalmic Hospital in Pitt (now Balfe) Street in 1829 and in 1832, in conjunction with Charles Benson and others, he founds the Baggot Street Hospital, Baggot Street, and later practices there after the opening of a dedicated eye ward. His younger rival, Sir William Wilde, subsequently founds the competing St. Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital in Lincoln Place (beside Trinity College) in 1844.

In 1839, with Dr. Henry Maunsell, Jacob starts the Dublin Medical Press, a weekly journal of medical science, and edits forty-two volumes from 1839 to 1859, in order “to diffuse useful knowledge… to instil honourable principles, and foster kind feelings in the breast of the student” among other desirable aims. He also contributes to the Dublin Journal of Medical Science. He takes an active part in founding the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund Society of Ireland and the Irish Medical Association.

At the age of seventy-five Jacob retires from the active pursuit of his profession. His fame rests on his anatomical and ophthalmological discoveries.

In December 1860 a medal bearing Jacob’s likeness is struck and presented to him, and his portrait, bust, and library are later placed in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. He dies at Newbarnes, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, England, on September 21, 1874. He is buried at Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.

In 1819 Jacob announces the discovery, which he had made in 1816, of a previously unknown membrane of the eye, in a paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. The membrane has been known since as membrana Jacobi and forms the retina. Apart from his discovery of the membrana Jacobi, he describes Jacob’s ulcer, and revives cataract surgery through the cornea with a curved needle, Jacob’s needle. To the Cyclopædia of Anatomy he contributes an article on the eye, and to the Cyclopædia of Practical Medicine treatises on Ophthalmia and Amaurosis.

In 1824 Jacob marries Sarah, daughter of Coote Carroll, of Ballymote, County Sligo. The marriage produces five sons. She dies on January 6, 1839.

(Pictured: Photograph of a marble bust of Arthur Jacob on the main staircase of the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, Dublin, Ireland)


Leave a comment

Birth of Sir Eyre Coote, Soldier, Politician & Governor of Jamaica

Sir Eyre Coote, Irish-born British soldier and politician who serves as Governor of Jamaica, is born on May 20, 1759.

Coote is the second son of the Very Reverend Charles Coote of Shaen Castle, Queen’s County (now County Laois), Dean of Kilfenora, County Clare, and Grace Coote (née Tilson). Educated at Eton College (1767–71), he enters Trinity College Dublin (TCD) on November 1, 1774, but does not graduate. In 1776 he is commissioned ensign in the 37th (North Hampshire) Regiment of Foot and carries the regiment’s colours at the Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War. He fights in several of the major battles in the war, including Rhode Island (September 15, 1776), Brandywine (September 11, 1777) and the siege of Charleston (1780). He serves under Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis, in Virginia and is taken prisoner during the siege of Yorktown in October 1781.

On his release Coote returns to England, is promoted major in the 47th (Lancashire) Regiment of Foot in 1783, and in 1784 inherits the substantial estates of his uncle Sir Eyre Coote. He inherits a further £200,000 by remainder on his father’s death in 1796. He resides for a time at Portrane House, Maryborough, Queen’s County, and is elected MP for Ballynakill (1790–97) and Maryborough (1797–1800). Although he opposes the union, he vacates his seat to allow his elder brother Charles, 2nd Baron Castle Coote, to return a pro-union member. He serves with distinction in the West Indies (1793–95), particularly at the storming of Guadeloupe on July 3, 1794, and becomes colonel of the 70th (Surrey) Regiment of Foot (1794), aide-de-camp to King George III (1795), and brigadier-general in charge of the camp at Bandon, County Cork (1796).

Coote is active in suppressing the United Irishmen in Cork throughout 1797, and in June arrests several soldiers and locals suspected of attempting to suborn the Bandon camp. On January 1, 1798 he is promoted major-general and given the command at Dover. He leads the expedition of 1,400 men that destroy the canal gates at Ostend on May 18, 1798, holding out stubbornly for two days against superior Dutch forces until he is seriously wounded and his force overwhelmed. Taken prisoner, he is exchanged and in 1800 commands a brigade in Sir Ralph Abercromby‘s Mediterranean campaign, distinguishing himself at Abu Qir and Alexandria. For his services in Egypt he receives the thanks of parliament, is made a Knight of the Bath, and is granted the Crescent by the Sultan.

In 1801 Coote returns to Ireland. Elected MP for Queen’s County (1802–06), he generally supports the government, and is appointed governor of the fort of Maryborough. He gives the site and a large sum of money towards the building of the old county hospital in Maryborough. In 1805 he is promoted lieutenant-general, and he serves as lieutenant-governor of Jamaica (1806–08). His physical and mental health deteriorates in the West Indian climate, and he is relieved of his post in April 1808. He is second in command in the Walcheren Campaign of 1809 and leads the force that takes the fortress of Flushing. However, he shows signs of severe stress during the campaign and asks to be relieved from command because his eldest daughter is seriously ill.

Coote is conferred LL.D. at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1811. Elected MP for Barnstaple, Devon (1812–18), he usually votes with government, but opposes them by supporting Catholic emancipation, claiming that Catholics strongly deserve relief because of the great contribution Catholic soldiers had made during the war. He strongly opposes the abolition of flogging in the army. Despite a growing reputation for eccentricity, he is promoted full general in 1814 and appointed Knight Grand Cross (GCB) on January 2, 1815, but his conduct becomes increasingly erratic. In November 1815 he pays boys at Christ’s Hospital school, London, to allow him to flog them and to flog him in return. Discovered by the school matron, he is charged with indecent behaviour. The Lord Mayor of London dismisses the case and Coote donates £1,000 to the school, but the scandal leads to a military inquiry on April 18, 1816. Although it is argued that his mind had been affected by the Jamaican sun and the deaths of his daughters, the inquiry finds that he is not insane and that his conduct is unworthy of an officer. Despite the protests of many senior officers, he is discharged from the army and deprived of his honours.

Coote continues to decline and dies in London on December 10, 1823. He is buried at his seat of West Park, Hampshire, where in 1828 a large monument is erected to him and his uncle Sir Eyre Coote.

Coote first marries Sarah Robard in 1785, with whom he has three daughters, all of whom die young of consumption. Secondly he marries in 1805, Katherine, daughter of John Bagwell of Marlfield, County Tipperary, with whom he has one son, his heir Eyre Coote III, MP for Clonmel (1830–33). He also has a child by Sally, a slave girl in Jamaica, from whom Colin Powell, United States Army general and Secretary of State, claims descent.


2 Comments

Death of John Hewitt Jellett, Mathematician & Priest

John Hewitt Jellett, Irish mathematician whose career is spent at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), where he rises to the rank of Provost, dies in Dublin on February 19, 1888. He is also a priest in the Church of Ireland.

Jellett is born at Cashel, County Tipperary, on December 25, 1817, the son of Rev. Morgan Jellett and his wife Harriette Townsend, daughter of Hewitt Baldwin Poole of County Cork, by his wife Dorothea Morris. He is the eldest brother of Hewitt Poole Jellett, Serjeant-at-law (Ireland) and Chairman of the Quarter Sessions for County Laois, and of the Venerable Henry Jellett, Archdeacon of Cloyne. He is educated at Kilkenny College and at TCD, where he becomes a fellow in 1840.

Jellett marries his cousin on his mother’s side, Dorothea Charlotte Morris Morgan, daughter of James Morgan, on July 7, 1855. The marriage produces seven children. His son, William Morgan Jellett, is a member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and is the father of the celebrated artist Mainie Jellett, and of Dorothea Jellett, director of the orchestra of the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. Another son Henry Holmes Jellett is a civil engineer in British India. His daughter Harriette Mary Jellett is the wife of the noted Irish physicist George Francis FitzGerald. Another daughter Eva Jellett is the first woman to graduate with a degree in medicine from Trinity, and goes on to practice as a doctor in India.

Jellett graduates B.A. in mathematics in 1837, M.A. 1843, B.D. 1866, and D.D. 1881. He is ordained a priest in 1846. In 1848 he is elected to the chair of natural philosophy at TCD, and in 1868 he receives the appointment of commissioner of Irish national education.

In 1851 Jellett is awarded the Cunningham Medal of the Royal Irish Academy for his work on the “Calculus of Variations.” The society later elects him their president, a position he holds from 1869 to 1874.

In 1870, on the death of Dr. Thomas Luby, Jellett is co-opted a Senior Fellow, and thus a member of the Board of TCD. William Ewart Gladstone‘s government in February 1881 appoints him provost of Trinity. In the same year he is awarded a Royal Medal by the Royal Society.

After the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland by the Irish Church Act 1869, Jellett takes an active part in the deliberations of the general synod and in every work calculated to advance its interests. He is an able mathematician, and writes A Treatise of the Calculus of Variations (1850), and A Treatise on the Theory of Friction (1872), as well as several papers on pure and applied mathematics, articles in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy. He also writes some theological essays, sermons, and religious treatises, of which the principal are An Examination of some of the Moral Difficulties of the Old Testament (1867), and The Efficacy of Prayer (1878).

Jellett dies of blood poisoning at the provost’s house, TCD, on February 19, 1888, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery on February 23. The funeral procession is the largest that ever left Trinity.

(Pictured: “John Hewitt Jellett,” oil on canvas by Sarah Purser)


Leave a comment

Birth of Richard Barrett, Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Richard Barrett, commonly called Dick Barrett, a prominent Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer, is born on December 17, 1889 in Knockacullen (Hollyhill), Ballineen, County Cork. He fights in the Irish War of Independence and on the Anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War, during which he is captured and later executed on December 8, 1922.

Barrett is the son of Richard Barrett, farmer, and Ellen Barrett (née Henigan). Educated at Knocks and Knockskagh national schools, he enters the De La Salle College, Waterford, where he trains to be a teacher. Obtaining a first-class diploma, he first teaches at Ballinamult, County Waterford but then returns to Cork in early 1914 to take up a position at the St. Patrick’s Industrial School, Upton. Within months he is appointed principal of Gurrane National School. Devoted to the Irish language and honorary secretary of Knockavilla GAA club, he does much to popularise both movements in the southern and western districts of Cork. He appears to have been a member of the Cork Young Ireland Society.

From 1917, inspired by the Easter Rising, Barrett takes a prominent part in the organisation and operation of the Irish Volunteers and Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). By this time he is also involved with Sinn Féin, in which role he attends the ardfheis at the Mansion House in October 1917 and the convention of the Irish Volunteers at Croke Park immediately afterwards.

Through planning and participating in raids and gunrunning episodes, Barrett comes into close contact with many GHQ staff during the Irish War of Independence, thereby ensuring his own rapid promotion. He is an active Irish Republican Army (IRA) brigade staff officer and occasionally acts as commandant of the West Cork III Brigade. He also organises fundraising activities for the purchase of weapons and for comrades on the run. In July 1920, following the arrest of the Cork III Brigade commander Tom Hales and quartermaster Pat Harte, he is appointed its quartermaster. He is arrested on March 22, 1921 and imprisoned in Cork jail, later being sent to Spike Island, County Cork.

As one of the senior officers held in Spike Island, Barrett is involved in many of the incidents that occur during his time there. After the truce is declared on July 11, 1921, some prisoners go on hunger strike but he calls it off after a number of days on instructions from outside as a decision had been made that able-bodied men are more important to the cause. In November, Barrett escapes by row boat alongside Moss (Maurice) Twomey, Henry O’Mahoney, Tom Crofts, Bill Quirke, Dick Eddy and Paddy Buckley.

Following the Irish War of Independence, Barrett supports the Anti-Treaty IRA‘s refusal to submit to the authority of Dáil Éireann (civil government of the Irish Republic declared in 1919). He is opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and calls for the total elimination of English influence in Ireland. In April 1922, under the command of Rory O’Connor, he, along with 200 other hardline anti-treaty men, take over the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the new Irish government. They want to provoke British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them. They hope this will restart the war with Britain and reunite the IRA against their common enemy. Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade O’Connor and his men to vacate the building. However, on June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison had kidnapped J. J. O’Connell, a general in the new National Army, Collins’s soldiers shell the Four Courts with British artillery to spark off what becomes known as the Battle of Dublin. O’Connor surrenders following two days of fighting, and Barrett, with most of his comrades, is arrested and held in Mountjoy Gaol. This incident marks the official outbreak of the Irish Civil War, as fighting escalates around the country between pro- and anti-treaty factions.

After the death of Michael Collins in an ambush, a period of tit-for-tat revenge killings ensues. The government implements martial law and enacts the necessary legislation to set up military courts. In November, the government begins to execute Anti-Treaty prisoners, including Erskine Childers. In response, Liam Lynch, the Anti-Treaty Chief of Staff, gives an order that any member of the Dáil who had voted for the ‘murder legislation’ is to be shot on sight.

On December 7, 1922, Teachta Dála (TD) Sean Hales is killed by anti-Treaty IRA men as he leaves the Dáil. Another TD, Pádraic Ó Máille, is also shot and badly wounded in the incident. An emergency cabinet meeting is allegedly held the next day to discuss the assassination of Hales. It is proposed that four prominent members of the Anti-Treaty side currently held as prisoners be executed as a reprisal and deterrent. The names put forward were Barrett, O’Connor, Liam Mellows and Joe McKelvey. It is alleged that the four are chosen to represent each of the four provinces – Munster, Connacht, Leinster and Ulster respectively, but none of the four is actually from Connacht. The executions are ordered by Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins. At 2:00 AM on the morning of December 8, 1922, Barrett is awoken along with the other three and informed that they are all to be executed at 8:00 that morning.

Ironies stack one upon the other. Barrett is a member of the same IRA brigade as Hales during the Anglo-Irish War, and they were childhood friends. O’Connor had been best man at O’Higgins’ wedding a year earlier. The rest of Sean Hales’ family remains staunchly anti-Treaty, and publicly denounces the executions. In reprisal for O’Higgins’ role in the executions, the Anti-Treaty IRA kills his father and burns his family home in Stradbally, County Laois. O’Higgins himself dies by an assassin’s hand on July 10, 1927.

The executions stun Ireland, but in terms of halting the Anti-Treaty assassination policy, they have the desired effect. The Free State government continues to execute enemy prisoners, and 77 official executions take place by the end of the war.

Barrett is now buried in his home county, Cork, following exhumation and reinternment by a later government. A monument is erected by old comrades of the West Cork Brigade, the First Southern Division, IRA, and of the Four Courts, Dublin, garrison in 1922 which is unveiled on December 13, 1952 by the Tánaiste Seán Lemass.

A poem about the execution is written by County Galway clergyman Pádraig de Brún.