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


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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)


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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.


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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)


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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.


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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)


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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.


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Death of Moss Keane, Gaelic & Rugby Union Footballer

Maurice Ignatius “Moss” Keane, Gaelic footballer and a rugby union footballer who plays for Ireland and the British & Irish Lions, dies in Portarlington, County Laois, on October 5, 2010. The great Scottish rugby commentator Bill McClaren refers to Keane in his prime, “Maurice Ignatius Keane. Eighteen and a half stone of prime Irish beef on the hoof, I don’t know about the opposition but he frightens the living daylights out of me.”

Born at Currow, County Kerry on July 27, 1948, Keane starts out as a Gaelic footballer, playing at college level for University College Cork and in the process winning a number of medals including three Sigerson Cups, one Cork County Championship and a Munster Club Championship. He also plays in an All-Ireland Club Final. He represents Kerry Gaelic footballer’s at U-21 and Junior level as a full back, winning Munster Championships at both levels, playing in an All -Ireland at Junior level. In 2011 the Kerry County Board names the cup for the winners of the Intermediate Shield after him.

Keane then discovers rugby through a friend in college, playing for the UCC junior rugby team as ‘Moss Fenton,’ during the Gaelic Athletic Association‘s (GAA) ban on foreign games. When asked his first thoughts about rugby he answers, “It was like watching a pornographic movie – very frustrating for those watching and only enjoyable for those participating.” He makes his international debut for Ireland on January 19, 1974 against France in Paris, a game Ireland loses 9–6 in the 1974 Five Nations Championship.

Keane becomes the third Irish forward after Willie John McBride and Fergus Slattery to reach 50 international appearances. He scores his one and only test try in a 22–15 victory over Scotland in February 1980. He plays his 51st and final international against Scotland on March 3, 1984 in Dublin. Ireland loses the match 32–9. He is also a part of the famous Munster side that defeats the All Blacks in Thomond Park in 1978.

Keane tours New Zealand with Phil Bennett‘s British & Irish Lions in 1977, making one Test appearance, and is also a key man in Ireland’s 1982 Five Nations Championship win and their historic Triple Crown victory in 1982.

In 2005 Keane writes, with Billy Keane (no kin), his autobiography, called Rucks, Mauls and Gaelic Football.

Having gained a master’s degree in dairy science, Keane works for the Department of Agriculture during his rugby playing career and retires in July 2010. He keeps active playing golf on a weekly basis. In 1993 he is the victim of a vicious mugging.

In 2009 it is reported that Keane is being treated for colorectal cancer. He dies at the age of 62 on October 5, 2010. His funeral takes place on October 7 in St. Michael’s Church in Portarlington. Former Ireland international players, including Willie John McBride, Ollie Campbell, Tony Ward, Mick Galwey, Dick Spring, Donal Lenihan, Donal Spring and Ciaran Fitzgerald are in attendance. His coffin is adorned with the jerseys of Ireland, Munster, UCC, Kerry and Currow.

Many tributes are made including Taoiseach Brian Cowen saying, “one of the great gentleman of Irish sport would be sadly missed by his many fans and admirers worldwide. Moss Keane was one of the finest rugby players Ireland has ever produced. He was among rugby’s best known characters and a legend of the game at home and abroad.” Describing him as one of Irish rugby’s “most genuine characters and legends of the game,” the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) pays tribute to Keane, “Moss had ability on the field that no one could doubt from his record at club, provincial and international level.” IRFU President Caleb Powell says, “UCC, Lansdowne, Munster, Ireland and the British & Irish Lions all benefited from his presence and ensured that his reputation will live long in the memories of not only Irish rugby, but world rugby.”

Keane is survived by his wife Anne and his two daughters Sarah and Anne Marie.


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Birth of Gaelic Footballer Matt Connor

Matt Connor, one of the most legendary Gaelic footballers of all time, is born in Walsh Island, County Offaly, on July 9, 1960. He plays with his local club Walsh Island and is a member of the Offaly senior inter-county team from 1978 until 1984 when he is seriously injured in a car crash, resulting in his needed use of a wheelchair.

In a six-year career with Offaly Connor scores a massive 13-142 and his performance in the 1980 All Ireland Senior Football Championship semi-final against Kerry when he scores 2-9 is regarded as one of the great individual performances.

Connor is a key player on the Offaly side that famously denies Kerry five-in-a-row in 1982 when he is joined by his brother Richie, who captains the side, and by his cousins Liam and Tomas, all from the small Walsh Island club just a couple of miles beyond Portarlington.

Connor is cruelly paralysed from the waist down following a car accident on Christmas Day 1984. He is only 24 years old at the time. Despite having his career cut short by injury, he remains heavily involved in Offaly GAA and serves as minor manager, senior selector and is also involved with the Irish international rules football team.

The Walsh Island native serves in Tullamore Garda station for many years and is remembered as one of the classiest forwards to ever have played the game. He retires following a 40-year career as a member of An Garda Síochána.

The Connor family has a long association with Laois through school, work and football. Connor is a regular in the press box in O’Connor Park which shares a facility with the wheelchair section and the VIP area. His older brother Richie is currently principal of Shanahoe National School and previously served as manager of the Laois and Offaly senior football teams.

In May 2020, the Irish Independent names Connor at number six in its “Top 20 footballers in Ireland over the past 50 years.”


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Death of Author Benedict “Ben” Kiely

Benedict “Ben” Kiely, Irish writer and broadcaster, dies in St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin on February 9, 2007.

Kiely is born in Dromore, County Tyrone on August 15, 1919, the youngest of six children. In 1920, the family moves from Dromore to Omagh. After living for a short time in Castle Street and Drumragh, the family finally settles in St. Patrick’s Terrace in the Gallows Hill area of Omagh. This area is to be a lasting inspiration for Kiely.

Kiely begins to feel the urge to become a writer during his teenage years. He has a keen interest in the work of George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and Jonathan Swift. In 1936, after completing his education at Mount St. Columba Christian Brothers School in Omagh, he goes to work as a sorting clerk in the Omagh Post Office.

However, Kiely soon realises that the post office will not provide him with the life of the scholar which he so desires. In the spring of 1937, he leaves Omagh and begins a new life in Emo Park, Portarlington, County Laois, where he decides to train as a Jesuit priest. His life as a Jesuit is not meant to be for, exactly a year later, in the spring of 1938, he suffers a serious spinal injury, which results in a lengthy stay in Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital in Finglas, Dublin. During his hospitalisation, he is given plenty of time to think about the course his life has already taken, and about a course it might take. He also realises that he lacks a vocation to the priesthood and abandons his training as a Jesuit.

When Kiely gets out of hospital in 1939, he returns to Omagh to recover from his back problem. The following year, he begins working as a part-time journalist in the weekly Catholic Standard newspaper. In 1943, he graduates from National University of Ireland with a B.A. in History and Letters.

In 1945, Kiely begins working for the Irish Independent, where he is employed as a journalist and critic. In 1950, he joins The Irish Press as a literary editor. In 1964, he moves to the United States where, over a period of four years, he is a Writer-in-Residence at Emory University, visiting professor at the University of Oregon, and Writer-in-Residence at Hollins College (Virginia). In 1968, he returns to Ireland. In the spring of 1976, he is Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Delaware. He continues to receive acclaim for his writing and journalism, a career which spans over six decades, receiving the Award for Literature from the Irish Academy of Letters. By now, he is one of Ireland’s best known writers. In 1996, he is named Saoi of Aosdána, the highest honour given by the Arts Council of Ireland.

Kiely visits Omagh in 2001 which is marked by the unveiling of a plaque outside his childhood home on Gallows Hill by Omagh’s Plain Speaking Community Arts group. Every September an event is held in Omagh called The Benedict Kiely Literary Weekend to celebrate his many achievements.

Benedict Kiely dies in St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin on February 9, 2007.


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Last Sketch by Jack B. Yeats Sells at Auction

The last sketch by artist Jack B. Yeats, drawn while he lay dying in a Dublin nursing home, sells at auction in London on February 8, 2011 for £5,760. Roundabout Ponies far exceeds its estimate of £1,500- £2,000 at the inaugural Irish Sale at Bonhams, the New Bond Street fine art auctioneers.

The pen-and-ink drawing on writing paper, which measures just over 5 inches by 4 inches, is sold by a family who had inherited it from the matron of the Portobello Nursing Home. The artist had presented the sketch to Teresa O’Sullivan, with whom he had become friendly, two days before he died on March 28, 1957.

Bonhams says the picture had attracted considerable interest because it was the last work done by Yeats and described it as “a little gem [which] exhibits the unique artistic vitality he had right to the end.”

The sketch is bought by an unnamed “private London buyer.” The auction is the first test of the international demand for Irish art in 2011 and the overall results are disappointing. Among the unsold works are the two highest-priced paintings: The Cat Among the Stars, an oil-on-board, also by Jack B. Yeats, and Image of Francis Bacon No. 18, a watercolour by Louis le Brocquy.

Commenting afterwards, Penny Day, the County Laois-born head of Irish Art at Bonhams, says, “We have made a start in the toughest time imaginable and have had mixed results, but I am pretty confident we will be able to sell all the pictures that did not sell in the auction with post-sale deals.”

(From: “Jack B Yeats’ deathbed sketch sells for three times it estimate” by Michael Parsons, The Irish Times, February 10, 2011)