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


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Death of John Henry Patterson, Army Officer, Hunter, Author & Zionist

John Henry Patterson, known as J. H. Patterson, Irish officer in the British Army, game hunter, author and Christian Zionist, dies in Bel Air, California, on June 18, 1947.

Patterson is born on November 10, 1867 at Forgney, Ballymahon, County Longford, the son of a Protestant father and a Roman Catholic mother. He joins the British Army at Dublin in 1885 and is posted with the 3rd Dragoon Guards to India. In 1892 he is seconded to the Indian military works department as a supervisor of civil engineering projects. In 1894 he marries Frances Helena Gray, daughter of William Gray of Cork and Belfast, a building surveyor who founded the free library movement in Belfast. She goes on to earn science and law degrees.

In 1898 Patterson is sent to British East Africa to supervise 3,000 Indian and African labourers who are building a railway bridge spanning the Tsavo River as part of the Mombasa to Lake Victoria line. Construction is interrupted when two man-eating lions repeatedly attack the labourers’ camp at night. He embarks on a lion hunt, but by the time he shoots the two lions they have mauled and mutilated between 130 and 140 labourers.

Patterson volunteers for service in the South African War in 1900. He is mentioned in dispatches by Lord Frederick Roberts and Lord Herbert Kitchener and is awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). In 1902 he is appointed lieutenant colonel commanding the 33rd Battalion Imperial Yeomanry. While on a shooting trip in east Africa in 1906, he discovers a new species of eland, which is named Taurotragus oryx pattersonianus after him. His account of his adventures in Africa, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo, is published in 1907 to instant international acclaim. His exploits are twice made the subject of films: Bwana Devil (1952) and The Ghost and the Darkness (1996). In 1907 he is seconded as chief game warden, British East Africa Protectorate (Kenya), and he combines his work of conducting surveys with escorting private safari parties.

The following year Patterson leads a safari trip in the protectorate accompanied by Audley James Blyth, a son of James Blyth, 1st Baron Blyth, and his wife, Ethel Jane. During the expedition Blyth shoots himself in the head with a revolver and dies. Patterson claims that Blyth was suffering from heat stroke, but there are rumours of a romantic attachment between Patterson and Mrs. Blyth. The colonial secretary Lord Crewe exonerates Patterson in return for his resignation as chief game warden. The incident serves as the plot for Ernest Hemingway‘s short story “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”

In 1913 Patterson commands the West Belfast division of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), and sees service in Flanders before being sent to Egypt in early 1915. In Alexandria, two Russian Jewish Zionists, the journalist Ze’ev Jabotinsky and veteran of the Russo–Japanese War Joseph Trumpeldor, ask General John Maxwell, commander of the British forces in Egypt, to establish a Jewish legion that will liberate the Holy Land from the Turks. Maxwell refuses, proposing instead that the Jews form a volunteer transport unit to serve in Gallipoli. Patterson, who is imbued with a deep knowledge of the Old Testament, and draws spiritual sustenance from biblical heroes such as Joshua and Gideon, is appointed commander of the Assyrian Jewish refugee mule corps, a colonial corps of the Egyptian expeditionary force. He sails with the Zion Mule Corps, as it is popularly known, to Gallipoli in April 1915, where the corps serves with distinction, carrying water and ammunition to the Allied troops on the peninsula. He falls ill in November 1915, and is sent to convalesce in London. The Zion Mule Corps is evacuated from Gallipoli in December, and disbanded in March 1916.

When manpower and political considerations persuade the British authorities to create the Jewish Legion in 1917, Patterson is appointed its commander. He marches his 38th Battalion Royal Fusiliers through the City of London and Whitechapel, cheered by a crowd of several thousand Jews. The Jewish Legion participates in General Edmund Allenby‘s sustained attack, which successfully pushes the Turks out of Palestine. His experiences with his Jewish soldiers turn him into a committed Zionist. In 1916 he writes With the Zionists in Gallipoli, and in 1922 With the Judaeans in the Palestine Campaign, which contain a scathing attack on Britain’s policy towards the Jews during and after World War I.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Patterson increasingly allies himself with the revisionist Zionist agenda espoused by Jabotinsky’s New Zionist Organisation. When World War II breaks out, he travels with Jabotinsky to the United States, moving permanently to La Jolla, California, in 1940. With others, including the Irish Jew and later Lord Mayor of Dublin Robert Briscoe, he agitates for the formation of a large Jewish army that would fight with the Allies against Nazi Germany. After Jabotinsky’s death in 1940, he works with Benzion Netanyahu, the Palestinian Jewish executive director of the American revisionist Zionists. In 1946 he becomes godfather to Netanyahu’s first son, who is named Yonatan (the closest Hebrew name to John) in Patterson’s honour. Yonatan later leads Operation Entebbe, the successful 1976 Israeli raid on Entebbe Airport to free Israeli hostages.

On June 18, 1947, just a year before the establishment of the Zionist state of Israel, for which he had worked so hard, Patterson dies at Bel Air, California. A week later, the United Zionist Revisionists of Great Britain hold a memorial meeting at the Anglo–Palestinian Club near Piccadilly Circus in Patterson’s memory. His documents and personal effects are held at the Jabotinsky Institute and Museum in Tel Aviv. His uniform and other memorabilia are on display in Beit Hagdudim, the Jewish Legions Museum at Netanya, Israel. His two man-eating lions are on display in Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, where his son Bryan Patterson later serves as curator.

(From: “Patterson, John Henry” by Yanky Fachler, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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The Clonfin Ambush

The Clonfin Ambush is carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on February 2, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. It takes place in the townland of Clonfin between Ballinalee and Granard in County Longford. The IRA ambushes two lorries carrying members of the British Auxiliary Division, sparking a lengthy gun battle in which four Auxiliaries are killed and eight wounded. The Auxiliaries eventually surrender and their weapons are seized. The IRA commander, Seán Mac Eoin, wins some praise for helping the wounded Auxiliaries. Following the ambush, British forces burn a number of houses and farms in the area, and shoot dead an elderly farmer.

The IRA’s North Longford Flying Column, twenty-one strong and led by Seán Mac Eoin, is formed in late 1920. In that year they kill four Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) constables. In November, a company of the Auxiliary Division – a paramilitary police force made up of ex-military officers – has been stationed in the county to put down the local IRA, and are reinforced in January 1921. Whereas previously the IRA had tried to operate in relatively large numbers, often attacking police barracks, from this point forward, their GHQ in Dublin orders smaller but more frequent attacks to be made.

The ambush site, on the road between Granard and Ballinalee, is well chosen. Mac Eoin selects a position where the ambushers have excellent cover and are barely visible to the British. The plan is to explode a mine as the lorries pass. The British assessment is that, “the ambush was most cleverly laid.”

The IRA detonates the roadside improvised explosive device (IED) as two British lorries are passing a bridge, killing the driver of the first lorry instantly. The IRA unit then opens fire on the lorries, triggering a fire-fight lasting two hours. One of the Auxiliaries gets away and manages to summon reinforcements.

During the fighting, four members of the IRA party work their way around the flank of the Auxiliaries, killing their commander, Lt. Commander Francis Craven. After his death, the remaining policemen surrender. A total of four Auxiliaries are killed and eight wounded.

MacEoin’s treatment of his prisoners is humane. He congratulates them on the fight they had put up and prevents his fighters from assaulting the Auxiliaries. He also has water brought from nearby houses for the British wounded. When he is later captured by the British, three Auxiliaries testify at his courtmartial to his generous treatment of them at Clonfin. Mac Eoin’s humane treatment reportedly delays the IRA’s getaway and they are almost caught by 14 lorries of British reinforcements as they escape across Clonfin Wood. The IRA had captured 18 rifles, 20 revolvers ammunition, a Lewis gun and 800 rounds of ammunition.

In the aftermath of the ambush, British forces raid the nearby towns of Killoe, Ballinamuck, Drumlish, Ballinalee, Edgeworthstown, Granard and Ardagh. A number of houses and farms are burned. They shoot dead an elderly farmer, Michael Farrell, in reprisal for the ambush.

The IRA flying column lays low after the ambush and does not attempt any more attacks until the end of the month. MacEoin, the Longford IRA leader, is captured at Mullingar railway station in early March and charged with the murder of RIC DI MGrath. He is released in July under the terms of the Truce which ends hostilities. In his absence, the Longford IRA are not able to sustain the intensity of their campaign.

A stone monument is erected at the site of the ambush in 1971 to mark the 50th anniversary of the event. The IRA combatants are MacEoin (Ballinalee), Sean Duffy (Ballinalee), James J. Brady (Ballinamuck), Tom Brady (Cartronmarkey), Paddy Callaghan (Clonbroney), Seamus Conway (Clonbroney), Pat Cooke (Tubber), Seamus Farrelly (Purth), Paddy Finnegan (Molly), Larry Geraghty (Ballymore), Mick Gormley (Killoe), Hugh Hourican (Clonbroney), Jack Hughes (Scrabby), Mick Kenny (Clonbroney), Paddy Lynch (Colmcille), John McDowell (Clonbroney), Jack Moore (Streete), Mick Mulligan (Willsbrook), Michael F. Reynolds (Killoe), Sean Sexton (Ballinalee) and Jim Sheeran (Killoe).

(Pictured: The stone monument located at Clonfin, near the village of Ballinalee, County Longford, marking the site of the ambush. Erected in 1971 to mark the 50th anniversary of the event, the limestone monument features strong military, anti-British language and symbolism.)


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Death of James Bronterre O’Brien, Chartist Leader, Reformer & Journalist

James Bronterre O’Brien, Irish Chartist leader, reformer and journalist, dies of complications from bronchitis on December 23, 1684.

O’Brien is born near Granard, County Longford, in 1804 or 1805. He goes to a local church school, where one of his teachers recognises his intellectual abilities and arranges for him to be educated at the progressive Lovell Edgeworth School. In 1822 he proceeds to Trinity College, Dublin, where he wins several academic prizes including the Science Gold Medal. After studying law at King’s Inns, he moves to England in 1829 with the intention of becoming a lawyer in London.

In London he joins the Radical Reform Association where he meets Henry Hunt, William Cobbett, Henry Hetherington and other leaders of the struggle for universal suffrage. In 1836 he joins the London Working Men’s Association.

O’Brien begins contributing articles to Henry Hetherington’s Poor Man’s Guardian. He signs these articles with the pseudonym ‘Bronterre’ and he eventually adopts it as his middle name. He works very closely with Hetherington and when he is imprisoned for publishing an unstamped newspaper, O’Brien takes over the editorship of Poor Man’s Guardian. He and Hetherington also collaborate on other unstamped newspapers such as The Destructive and the London Dispatch. In 1837 he begins publishing Bronterre’s National Reformer. In an attempt to avoid paying stamp duty, the journal includes essays rather than ‘news items.’ During this period, he and Hetherington lead the struggle against the stamp duty and are consistent in their arguments that working people need cheap newspapers that contain political information.

O’Brien is influenced by the socialist writer François-Noël Babeuf, who had been executed during the French Revolution. In 1836 he begins publishing translations of Babeuf’s work in the Poor Man’s Guardian. He also includes Filippo Buonarroti‘s account of Babeuf and the Conspiracy of Equals. He becomes fascinated with the history of radicalism and begins work on books on Maximilien Robespierre, the French Revolution and the English Commonwealth. However, the authorities raid his house in 1838 and seize his manuscripts and the projects are never completed.

In 1838 O’Brien adds his support for a more militant approach to winning the vote that is being advocated by Feargus O’Connor and George Julian Harney through the London Democratic Association. However, he, unlike O’Connor, refuses to support the use of violence to achieve universal suffrage. He argues that the Chartists should adopt a policy that is midway between the petitioning supported by William Lovett and the Moral Force Chartists, and the violence being threatened by O’Connor’s Physical Force group.

After Bronterre’s National Reformer ceases publication, O’Brien works for O’Connor’s Northern Star. His articles play an important role in increasing the circulation of what had become the most important of the radical newspapers. As well as writing for the Northern Star, he also finds time to publish his own newspaper, The Operative.

O’Brien continues to be active in the Chartist movement and in 1840 he is arrested and charged with making a seditious speech in Manchester. He is convicted of sedition and sentenced to eighteen months in Lancaster Prison. When he is released from prison he finds it difficult to continue working with Feargus O’Connor. The two men disagree over the issue of physical force. Another source of dispute concerns parliamentary elections. O’Brien favours the idea of putting up Chartist candidates whereas O’Connor prefers the tactic of putting pressure on the Whig government by threatening to vote for Tory candidates. He is involved in standing Chartist candidates against Government Ministers in key seats, particularly in standing against Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston in Tiverton.

O’Brien finally breaks with O’Connor when, along with Henry Vincent and Robert George Gammage, he joins the Complete Suffrage Union. He continues to publish newspapers. He joins with his old friend Henry Hetherington to revive the Poor Man’s Guardian in 1843 and this is followed by the National Reformer in 1844. These newspapers are not a financial success and by May 1847, both papers cease publication.

After the failure of these two newspapers, O’Brien concentrates on writing for other publications such as Reynold’s Weekly Newspaper and the Glasgow Sentinel. He also gives public lectures and in 1851 he opens the Eclectic Institute in Denmark Street, Soho, London, where adult education classes are offered in English, French, science and mathematics.

By the 1850s O’Brien’s poverty begins to damage his health. He suffers from bronchitis and his Chartist friends attempt to raise money in recognition of the great sacrifices that he had made in the struggle to win universal suffrage and the freedom of the press. However, the damage to his health is so bad that he spends his last years bed-ridden. He dies on December 23, 1864, and is buried in Abney Park Cemetery.


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Birth of John Keegan “Leo” Casey, the Poet of the Fenians

John Keegan “Leo” Casey, Irish poet, orator and republican known as the Poet of the Fenians, is born in Mount Dalton, County Westmeath on August 22, 1846. He is famous as the writer of the song “The Rising of the Moon” and as one of the central figures in the Fenian Rising of 1867. He is imprisoned by the English and dies on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1870.

Casey is born to a teacher during the height of the Great Famine of 1846. Eight years later he moves to Gurteen, near Ballymahon in County Longford, when his father is given the post of head master at the local school. His work would come to be closely associated with Ballymahon.

As a teenager Casey works as an assistant to his father and is expected to follow him into teaching. However, he is disillusioned by the insufficiently nationalistic nature of the curriculum and spends a great deal of time writing poetry. It is at this time, reputedly at the age of fifteen, that he writes his best-known song, “The Rising of the Moon,” which commemorates the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

Following the increasing popularity of his songs and ballads at nationalist gatherings, Casey moves to Dublin in the 1860s and becomes active in the Fenian movement. He is a major contributor to The Nation newspaper, for which he assumes his pen name of ‘Leo.’

In 1866, at the age of 20, Casey publishes a collection of poems, entitled A Wreath of Shamrocks. Most of the poems therein had already been published elsewhere, primarily in The Nation. The further fame engendered by the success of the book leads him to be sought after as a speaker. He addresses mass rallies in Dublin, Liverpool and London that year, in the lead up to the Fenian Rising in 1867.

When the uprising fails, Casey is imprisoned without trial for eight months in Mountjoy Prison. He is released on the understanding that he would leave for Australia and not return to Ireland. However, he chooses to stay on in Summerhill, Dublin in disguise, living as a Quaker and continuing to write and publish in secret.

Casey marries Mary Josephine Briscoe in January 1868 and they have a son Michael, who dies shortly after birth in October 1869. Casey’s health had been broken by the treatment he had received in prison. He falls from a cab on or near O’Connell Bridge in the centre of Dublin in 1870. He dies from his injuries on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1870.

Following his death, Casey is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. The newspapers report that between fifty and one hundred thousand mourners walk in his funeral procession.


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Birth of Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Politician, Writer & Inventor

Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Anglo-Irish politician, writer and inventor, is born on May 31, 1744 in Pierrepont Street, Bath, Somerset, England.

Edgeworth is the son of Richard Edgeworth senior, and great-grandson of Sir Salathiel Lovell through his mother, Jane Lovell, granddaughter of Sir Salathiel. The Edgeworth family comes to Ireland in the 1580s. He is descended from Francis Edgeworth, appointed joint Clerk of the Crown and Hanaper in 1606, who inherits a fortune from his brother Edward Edgeworth, Bishop of Down and Connor.

A Trinity College, Dublin and Corpus Christi College, Oxford alumnus, Edgeworth is credited for creating, among other inventions, a machine to measure the size of a plot of land. He also makes strides in developing educational methods. He anticipates the caterpillar track with an invention that he plays around with for forty years but never successfully develops. He describes it as a “cart that carries its own road.”

Edgeworth is married four times, including both Honora Sneyd and Frances Beaufort, older sister of Francis Beaufort of the Royal Navy. He is the father of 22 children by his four wives. Beaufort and he install a semaphore line for Ireland. He is a member of the Lunar Society of Birmingham. The Lunar Society evolves through various degrees of organization over a period of years, but is only ever an informal group. No constitution, minutes, publications or membership lists survive from any period, and evidence of its existence and activities is found only in the correspondence and notes of those associated with it. Dates given for the society range from sometime before 1760 to it still operating as late as 1813. Fourteen individuals have been identified as having verifiably attended Lunar Society meetings regularly over a long period during its most productive time: these are Matthew Boulton, Erasmus Darwin, Thomas Day, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Samuel Galton, Jr., James Keir, Joseph Priestley, William Small, Jonathan Stokes, James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood, John Whitehurst and William Withering.

Edgeworth and his family live in Ireland at his estate at Edgeworthstown, County Longford, where he reclaims bogs and improves roads. He sits in Grattan’s Parliament for St. Johnstown (County Longford) from 1798 until the Act of Union 1801, and advocates Catholic Emancipation and parliamentary reform. He is a founder-member of the Royal Irish Academy.

Edgeworth dies in Edgeworthstown on June 13, 1817.

(Pictured: “Portrait of Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817)” oil on canvas by Hugh Douglas Hamilton)


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Birth of John Gore, 1st Baron Annaly

John Gore, 1st Baron Annaly, Irish politician and peer, is born on March 2, 1718.

Gore is the second son of George Gore, judge of the Court of Common Pleas (Ireland), who in turn is the son of Sir Arthur Gore, 1st Baronet. His mother is Bridget Sankey, younger daughter of John Sankey. His mother brings his father a fortune and the manor of Tenelick in County Longford, which comes to John on the death of his brother Arthur in 1758.

Gore is called to the Bar by King’s Inns and works as barrister-at-law. He is Counsel to the Commissioners of Revenue and also a King’s Counsel from 1749. From 1747 and 1760, he sits as Member of Parliament (MP) for Jamestown. Subsequently, he sits for Longford County in the Irish House of Commons until 1765.

In 1760 Gore is appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland, a post he holds until 1764, when he becomes Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench for Ireland. In the same year he is sworn of the Privy Council of Ireland. On January 17, 1766, he is elevated to the Peerage of Ireland as Baron Annaly, of Tenelick in the County of Longford. In the following year he is elected Speaker of the Irish House of Lords.

Gore is a popular, witty and unassuming man, and a keen sportsman. In politics he is considered a strong reactionary, arguing that the Crown has the right to keep Parliament sitting indefinitely, and he is opposed to any extension of the powers of the Irish Parliament. In his later years he is inclined to denounce the Irish people as “idle and licentious.” Irish author and legal historian F. Elrington Ball notes however that Henry Grattan likes and admires Gore despite their strongly opposed political views. His judicial qualities are viciously attacked in an anonymous satire: “Without judgement, a judge makes justice unjust.” Ball on the other hand argues that his judgements and speeches in the House of Commons show that he does not lack ability.

In 1747, Gore marries Frances Wingfield, second daughter of Richard Wingfield, 1st Viscount Powerscourt of the third creation. Their marriage is childless. He dies on April 3, 1784 at St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin and is buried in the family vault in the church of Taghshinny in County Longford. With his death the barony becomes extinct, but is revived for his brother Henry, first and last Baron Annaly of the second creation. Lady Annaly dies in 1794 and is buried at St. Marylebone Parish Church, London.


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IRA Commander Seán Mac Eoin Captured at Mullingar

Seán Mac Eoin, Irish Republican Army (IRA) North Longford commander, is captured at Mullingar on March 1, 1921 and charged with the murder of a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) detective, dealing a severe blow to the IRA in that area.

Mac Eoin is born John Joseph McKeon on September 30, 1893 at Bunlahy, Granard, County Longford, the eldest son of Andrew McKeon and Catherine Treacy. After a national school education, he trains as a blacksmith at his father’s forge and, on his father’s death in February 1913, he takes over the running of the forge and the maintenance of the McKeon family. He moves to Kilinshley in the Ballinalee district of County Longford to set up a new forge.

Having joined the United Irish League in 1908, Mac Eoin’s Irish nationalist activities begin in earnest in 1913, when he joins the Clonbroney Company of the Irish Volunteers. Late that year he is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and joins the Granard circle of the organization.

Mac Eoin comes to prominence in the Irish War of Independence as leader of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column. In November 1920, he leads the Longford brigade in attacking Crown forces in Granard during one of the periodic government reprisals, forcing them to retreat to their barracks. On October 31, Inspector Philip St. John Howlett Kelleher of the RIC is shot dead in the Greville Arms Hotel in Granard. Members of the British Auxiliary Division set fire to parts of the town. The following day, Mac Eoin holds the village of Ballinalee situated on the Longford Road between Longford and Granard. They stand against superior British forces, forcing them to retreat and abandon their ammunition. In a separate attack on November 8, he leads his men against the RIC at Ballinalee. One constable is killed and two others are wounded.

On the afternoon of January 7, 1921, a joint RIC and British Army patrol consisting of ten policemen appears on Anne Martin’s street. According to Mac Eoin’s own testimony at his trial he is in the house in partial uniform, wearing Sam Browne belt and revolver with two Mills No. 4 bombs in his pocket. Owing to some females being in the house, he has to get out as to not endanger them. He steps out on the street and opens fire with his revolver. The leading file falls and the second file brings their rifles to the ready. He then throws a bomb, after which he sees that the entire force has cleared away, save the officer who was dead or dying on the street.

On February 2, 1921, the Longford IRA ambushes a force of the Auxiliaries on the road at Clonfin, using a mine it had planted. Two lorries are involved, the first blown up, and the second strafed by rapid rifle fire. Four auxiliaries and a driver are killed and eight wounded. The IRA volunteers capture 18 rifles, 20 revolvers and a Lewis gun. At the Clonfin Ambush, Mac Eoin orders his men to care for the wounded British, at the expense of captured weaponry, earning him both praise and criticism. He is admired by many within the IRA for leading practically the only effective column in the midlands.

Mac Eoin is captured at Mullingar railway station on March 1, 1921, imprisoned and sentenced to death for the murder of an RIC district inspector in the shooting at Anne Martin’s street in January 1921.

In June 1921, Henry Wilson, the British Chief of the General Staff (CIGS), is petitioned for clemency by Mac Eoin’s mother, his brother Jemmy, and the local Church of Ireland vicar, but passes on the appeals out of respect for the latter two individuals. Three auxiliaries had already given character references on his behalf after he had treated them chivalrously at the Clonfin Ambush in February 1921. However, Nevil Macready, British Commander-in-Chief, Ireland, confirms the death sentence describing Mac Eoin as “nothing more than a murderer.”

While imprisoned Mac Eoin is elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1921 Irish general election, as a TD for Longford–Westmeath. He is eventually released from prison, along with all other members of the Dáil, after Michael Collins threatens to break off treaty negotiations with the British government unless they are freed.

Mac Eoin joins the National Army and is appointed GOC Western Command in June 1922. His military career soars after the Irish Civil War. He is appointed GOC Curragh Training Camp in August 1925, Quartermaster General in March 1927, and Chief of Staff in February 1929.

Mac Eoin resigns from the Army in 1929, and is elected at a by-election to Dáil Éireann for the Leitrim–Sligo constituency, representing Cumann na nGaedheal. At the 1932 Irish general election, he returns to the constituency of Longford–Westmeath, and continues to serve the Longford area as TD until he is defeated at the 1965 Irish general election.

During a long political career Mac Eoin serves as Minister for Justice (February 1948 – March 1951) and Minister for Defence (March–June 1951) in the First Inter-Party Government, and again as Minister for Defence (June 1954 – March 1957) in the Second Inter-Party Government. He unsuccessfully stands twice as candidate for the office of President of Ireland, against Seán T. O’Kelly in 1945 and Éamon de Valera in 1959.

Mac Eoin retires from public life after the 1965 general election and dies in Dublin on July 7, 1973.


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Ballinalee Raid in Search of Seán Mac Eoin

The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) raid a cottage near Ballinalee, County Longford, on January 7, 1921 looking for Seán Mac Eoin. Mac Eoin opens fire from the cottage, killing District Inspector Thomas McGrath, wounding a constable, and escaping.

Mac Eoin is a soldier and eventual politician of the Fine Gael party. He is commonly referred to as the “Blacksmith of Ballinalee.” He is born John Joseph McKeon on September 30, 1893 at Bunlahy, Granard, County Longford, the eldest son of Andrew McKeon and Catherine Treacy. He joins the United Irish League in 1908. His Irish nationalist activities begin in earnest in 1913, when he joins the Clonbroney Company of the Irish Volunteers. Late that year he is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood and joins the Granard circle of the organization.

Mac Eoin comes to prominence in the Irish War of Independence as leader of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column. On November 4, 1920, his column holds the village of Ballinalee situated on the Longford Road between Longford and Granard. They stand against superior British forces, forcing them to retreat and abandon their ammunition. In a separate attack on November 8, he leads his men against the RIC at Ballinalee. An eighteen-year-old Constable Taylor is killed. Constable E. Shateford and two others are wounded. The story is that the small garrison sings “God Save the King” as they take up positions to return fire.

On the afternoon of January 7, 1921, a joint RIC and British Army patrol consisting of ten policemen led by an Inspector, with a security detachment of nine soldiers, appears on Anne Martin’s street. Mac Eoin’s own testimony at his trial, which is not contested by any parties present, states, “I was at the table writing when I was informed of the advance of the party. My account books were left in this house for safety. I was in partial uniform, wearing Sam Browne belt and revolver with two Mills No. 4 bombs in my pocket. Owing to some females being in the house, I had to get out as I could not endanger them by putting up a defence in the house, and as this Officer and Police Force had already signified to my sister and mother their intention to shoot me on sight, I decided to give them a run for their money. I stepped out on the street, about three paces directly in front of the oncoming force, and opened fire with my revolver. The leading file fell, and then the second file in the gateway brought their rifles to the ready. I then threw a bomb, and jumped back behind the porch to let it burst. When it had burst and the smoke had lifted, I saw that the whole force had cleared away, save the officer who was dead or dying on the street.” The casualties from this incident are District Inspector Thomas McGrath killed and a police constable wounded.

Mac Eoin is captured at Mullingar railway station in March 1921, imprisoned and sentenced to death for the murder of RIC District Inspector McGrath in the shooting at Anne Martin’s street in January 1921. Michael Collins organises a rescue attempt in June 1921. Six IRA Volunteers, led by Paddy Daly and Emmet Dalton, capture a British armoured car and, wearing British Army uniforms, gain access to Mountjoy Prison. However, Mac Eoin is not in the part of the jail they believed and, after some shooting, the party retreats.

Within days, Mac Eoin is elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1921 Irish general election, as a TD for Longford–Westmeath. He is eventually released from prison, along with all other members of the Dáil, after Collins threatens to break off treaty negotiations with the British government unless he is freed. It is rumoured that Sean Mac Eoin serves as the best man at Collins’ wedding.


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Donal Billings Convicted of Possession of Explosives

Donal Billings of St. Bridget’s Court in Drumlish, County Longford, a 66-year-old man who put a bomb on a bus during Britain’s Queen Elizabeth‘s visit to Ireland in May 2011, is convicted on December 15, 2016 at the Special Criminal Court of possessing explosives and is sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison.

Justice Tony Hunt describes it as an outrageous, dangerous and highly irresponsible act, which recklessly exposed the 31 people on the bus, as well as the emergency services, to the very significant risk of injury or death. He says it was no thanks to Billings that this did not occur.

Billings is also found guilty of four counts of making bomb threats, including one claiming there were two mortars in Dublin Castle during the State banquet for the queen.

The court hears that on May 16, 2011, following a phone call to Longford Garda station, gardaí stopped a bus travelling from Ballina to Dublin at Maynooth. They find a well-made bomb in a bag in the luggage hold with gunpowder, petrol, a timing power unit, battery and a fuse, which if it had exploded could have caused seriously injured or killed the passengers and driver. Threats were also made that there were bombs on another bus and at the Sinn Féin headquarters in Dublin but none were found.

Billings is identified as the caller though phone records, notes, a SIM card and a mobile phone. Two days later he makes another call saying that two mortars have been left in Dublin Castle set for 8:00 PM, during the State banquet for the queen. “I am a member of the Republican Brotherhood Squad A”, he says. “This is for the Queen of Blood, War in Iraq.” Because of the first bomb, the threat is taken very seriously, but no more explosive devices are found.

Two days later a third call threatens there are two more bombs in the toilets in Cork Airport, but again nothing is found.

Billings is identified as a suspect that day and put under surveillance before being arrested at a supermarket car park in Longford. He tells gardaí he had found the SIM card in the car park.

Following the trial, during which interpreters are used to translate proceedings into Irish, Billings is convicted of making bomb threats and possessing explosives. He has previous convictions for possessing explosives in Northern Ireland in 1973 and is sentenced to eight years in prison. He also spent four years in Libya.

(From: “Man sentenced over bomb on bus during Queen Elizabeth’s visit,” RTÉ.ie, the website of Raidió Teilifís Éireann, Thursday, December 15, 2016)


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Death of Padraic Colum, Poet & Novelist

padraic-colum

Padraic Colum, Irish-born American poet, novelist, biographer, playwright, and children’s author whose lyrics capture the traditions and folklore of rural Ireland, dies in Enfield, Connecticut on January 11, 1972. He is one of the leading figures of the Irish Literary Revival.

Colum was born on December 8, 1881 in Columcille, County Longford, the first of eight children born to Patrick and Susan Columb. In 1892, the family moves to Glasthule, near Dublin and he attends the local national school. He starts writing after he finishes school and meets a number of the leading Irish writers of the time, including W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and Æ. He also joins the Gaelic League and is a member of the first board of the Abbey Theatre. He becomes a regular user of the National Library of Ireland, where he meets James Joyce and the two become lifelong friends.

Influenced by the literary activity of the Celtic revival centered in Dublin at the turn of the century, Colum publishes the collection of poetry Wild Earth (1907). He co-founds The Irish Review in 1911, then three years later settles permanently in the United States. His varied literary output includes volumes of poetry including Dramatic Legends (1922) and Creatures (1927), plays such as Broken Soil (first performed 1903) and The Land (1905), novels, anthologies of folklore and children’s books. The reminiscence Our Friend James Joyce (1959) is written with his wife Mary (Maguire), a well-known literary critic.

The Colums spent the years from 1930 to 1933 living in Paris and Nice, where Padraic renews his friendship with James Joyce and becomes involved in the transcription of Finnegans Wake. After their time in France, the couple moves to New York City, where they do some teaching at Columbia University and City College of New York. He is a prolific author and publishes a total of 61 books, not counting his plays. While in New York, he writes the screenplay for the 1954 stop-motion animated film Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy. It is his only screenplay.

Mary dies in 1957 and Colum completes Our Friend James Joyce, which they had worked on together. It is published in 1958. He divides his later years between the United States and Ireland. In 1961 the Catholic Library Association awards him the Regina Medal.

Padraic Colum dies on January 11, 1972, at the age of 90, in Enfield, Connecticut. He is buried in St. Fintan’s Cemetery in Sutton, Dublin.