seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Assassination of Tomás Mac Curtain

Tomas-mac-curtainTomás Mac Curtain, Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork, is assassinated in Cork, County Cork on March 20, 1920, which is also his 36th birthday.

Thomas Curtin is born at Ballyknockane, Mourne Abbey, County Cork, on March 20, 1884, the son of Patrick Curtin, a farmer, and Julia Sheehan. He attends Burnfort National School. In 1897 the family moves to Cork City, where he attends the North Monastery school.

Mac Curtain, as he later becomes known, is active in a number of cultural and political movements beginning around the turn of the 20th century. He joins the Blackpool, Cork branch of Conradh na Gaeilge, becoming its secretary in 1902. He has interests in music, poetry, history, archaeology and Irish history. He works in his early career as a clerk, and in his free time teaches Irish. In 1911 he joins Fianna Éireann, and is a member of the Irish Volunteers.

He meets Elizabeth Walsh (Eibhlís Breathnach) at a Gaelic League meeting and they marry on June 28, 1908. They have six children, five of whom survive into adulthood. The family lives over 40 Thomas Davis Street, where Mac Curtain runs a small clothing and rainwear factory.

In April 1916, at the outset of the Easter Rising, Mac Curtain commands a force of up to 1,000 men of the Irish Volunteers who assemble at various locations around County Cork. From the volunteers headquarters at Sheares Street in the city, Mac Curtain and his officers await orders from the volunteer leadership in Dublin but conflicting instructions and confusion prevail and as a result the Cork volunteers never enter the fray. A tense stand-off develops when British forces surround the volunteer hall and continued for a week until a negotiated agreement leads to the surrender of the volunteers’ arms to the then Lord Mayor of Cork Thomas Butterfield on the understanding that they will be returned at a later date. This does not happen however and Mac Curtain is jailed in Wakefield Prison, in the Frongoch internment camp in Wales, and in Reading Gaol. After the general amnesty of participants in the Rising 18 months later, Mac Curtain returns to active duty as a Commandant of what is now the Irish Republican Army.

By 1918 Mac Curtain is a brigade commander, the highest and most important rank in the IRA. During the Conscription Crisis of 1918, he actively encourages the hiring of the women of Cumann na mBan to cater for Volunteers. He is personally involved with Michael CollinsThe Squad that, along with a Cork battalion, attempt to assassinate Lord John French, whose car is missed as the convoy passes through the ambush positions. Despite the setback he remains brigadier of No.1 Cork when he is elected Lord Mayor. He is elected in the January 1920 council elections as the Sinn Féin councillor for NW Ward No. 3 of Cork, and is chosen by his fellow councillors to be the Lord Mayor. He begins a process of political reform within the city.

In January 1919, the Irish War of Independence starts and Mac Curtain becomes an officer in the IRA. On March 20, 1920, his 36th birthday, Mac Curtain is shot dead in front of his wife and son by a group of men with blackened faces, who are found to be members of the Auxilaries along with unknown members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) by the official inquest into the event. In the wake of the killing, which is in revenge for the shooting of a policeman, Mac Curtain’s house in Blackpool is ransacked.

The killing causes widespread public outrage. The coroner’s inquest passes a verdict of willful murder against British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and against certain members of the RIC. Michael Collins later orders his squad of assassins to uncover and assassinate the police officers involved in the attack. RIC District Inspector Oswald Swanzy, who had ordered the attack, is fatally shot, with Mac Curtain’s own revolver, while leaving a Protestant church in Lisburn, County Antrim on August 22, 1920, sparking what is described by Tim Pat Coogan as a “pogrom” against the Catholic residents of the town.

Tomás Mac Curtain is buried in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery, Cork.

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Death of Playwright & Broadcaster Máiréad Ní Ghráda

Máiréad Ní Ghráda, poet, playwright, and broadcaster, dies on June 13, 1971. She is a tireless promoter of the Irish language and writes many educational texts, some of which are still widely used today including Progress in Irish.

Máiréad is born and raised in Kilmaley, County Clare, a Breac Ghaeltacht, with Irish speaking parents. She wins a university scholarship while attending the local Convent of Mercy School and receives a BA in English, Irish, and French and an MA in Irish from University College Dublin (UCD).

An active member of the Gaelic League and Cumann na mBan, she is imprisoned in 1920 for selling flags on behalf of the Gaelic League on Grafton Street. After a short time teaching in St. Brendan’s private school, Glenageary, County Dublin, Máiréad is employed as organiser and later as secretary to Ernest Blythe in the first Dáil Éireann and during the Irish Civil War. In 1923, she marries Richard Kissane, a civic guard (Garda Síochána). They have two sons and settle in Ranelagh, Dublin.

Beginning in 1926 she spends nine years working for 2RN (now Radió Éireann). She is the first female announcer with 2RN, engaged as Woman’s Organiser with the national radio station for many years, a job which involves programming for women and children. She is the first female announcer in Ireland and Britain, and perhaps in Europe.

Máiréad writes her first play in 1931 while teaching Irish in a domestic science college in Kilmacud. An Uacht, a one act comedy based on Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini, is produced by Michéal Mac Liammóir at the Gate Theatre (1931). Her writing for theatre includes Mícheál, 1933 (adaptation of Michael, a story by Leo Tolstoy), An Grádh agus an Garda (1937), Giolla an tSoluis (1945), Hansel & Gretel (1951), Lá Buí Bealtaine (1953), Úll glas Oíche Shamhna (1955), Ríte (1955), Súgán Sneachta (1959), Mac Uí Rudaí (1961) and Stailc Ocrais (1962). An Triail (1964) and On Trial (1965) and Breithiúnas (1968), although critical of Irish society at the time, are her greatest successes.

Her enormous contribution to Irish language theatre includes eleven original plays, more than any other playwright in Irish.


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Birth of Irish Politician Mary MacSwiney

Mary MacSwiney, Irish politician and educationalist, is born in London on March 27, 1872, to an Irish father and English mother. In 1927 she becomes leader of Sinn Féin when Éamon de Valera resigns from the presidency of the party.

MacSwiney returns to Ireland with her family at the age of six and is educated at St. Angela’s School in Cork. At the age of twenty, she obtains a teaching post at a private school in England and studies for a Teaching Diploma at the University of Cambridge, which is normally reserved for men.

Influenced by her younger brother Terence MacSwiney‘s staunch Irish republicanism, MacSwiney joins the Gaelic League and Inghinidhe na hÉireann. She is a founder member of Cumann na mBan when it is formed in 1914 in Cork and becomes a National Vice-President of the organisation. She leads the denunciation of British rule at the Convention of November 1914. In 1916 she is arrested and imprisoned following the Easter Rising and is also dismissed from her teaching position due to her republican activities. Several months later, upon her release from prison, she and her sister Annie re-found Scoil Íte, a sister school to Patrick Pearse‘s St. Enda’s School, and she remains involved with the school for the rest of her life.

MacSwiney supports the Irish War of Independence in 1919–21. After the death of her brother Terence in October 1920 on hunger strike during the height of the war, she is elected for Sinn Féin to the Cork Borough constituency in 1921. She gives evidence in Washington, D.C., before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. For nine months she and Terence’s widow, Muriel, tour the United States lecturing and giving interviews.

MacSwiney is active in her friendship with Harry Boland and de Valera, whom she cultivates assiduously. In October 1921, a second delegation is to be sent to London which for the first time includes Michael Collins. MacSwiney, who remains implacably opposed, pleads with de Valera to be allowed to go. She is refused as de Valera thinks her to be “too extreme.” She strongly opposes the Anglo-Irish Treaty, debating during December 1921 to January 1922 to resume the war. On December 21 she speaks for three hours, criticising the agreement from all angles.

MacSwiney is arrested at Nell Ryan’s home, a safe house, at 40 Herbert Park, Ballsbridge, on November 4, 1922, when it is raided by Free State soldiers. She is interned at Mountjoy Gaol and immediately goes on hunger strike. Cumann na mBan organizes vigils outside the prison in protest of Mary’s and the others internment. The Women’s Prisoner’s Defence League is formed in August 1922 to protect their rights. During the hunger strike she refuses doctor’s visits and is resigned to her death. Her condition is critical and she is given the Last Rites by a Catholic priest. The Government is not prepared to allow strikers die so she is released.

En route to Liam Lynch‘s funeral, MacSwiney is again arrested when the car in which she is riding is stopped and she is recognised. She is taken with Kate O’Callaghan to Kilmainham Gaol. Fearless of death, she begins another protest. They continued to be interned without charge, but it is explained she is distributing anti-government propaganda. After nineteen days of hunger strike she is due to be released on April 30, 1923. The Governor allows O’Callaghan to go but stays a decision on MacSwiney. Most of the women on hunger strike are sent to the North Dublin Union.

MacSwiney retains her seat at the 1923 general election and, along with other Sinn Féin members, refuses to enter the Dáil Éireann.

In March 1926 the party holds its Ard Fheis. MacSwiney and Father Michael O’Flanagan lead the section from which Éamon de Valera and Fianna Fáil break away. De Valera has come to believe that abstentionism is not a workable tactic and now sees the need to become the elected government of the Dáil. The conference instructs a joint committee of representatives from the two sections to arrange a basis for co-operation. That day, it issues a statement declaring “the division within our ranks is a division of Republicans.” The next day, de Valera’s motion to accept the Free State Constitution, contingent upon the abolition of the Oath of Allegiance, narrowly fails by a vote of 223 to 218. However, de Valera takes the great majority of Sinn Féin support with him when he founds Fianna Fáil.

MacSwiney continues to maintain a republican position until her death. By then she is vice-president of Sinn Féin and Cumann na mBan but loses her seat at the June 1927 general election. When lack of funds prevent Sinn Féin contesting the second election called that year, MacSwiney declares “no true Irish citizen can vote for any of the other parties.”

Mary MacSwiney dies at her home in Cork on March 8, 1942. Her stance, both before and after the Treaty, may be summed up by her statement, “A rebel is one who opposes lawfully constituted authority and that I have never done.”


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Birth of Margaret Dobbs, Irish Scholar & Playwright

feis-na-ngleannMargaret Emmeline Dobbs, Irish scholar and playwright best known for her work to preserve the Irish Language, is born in Dublin on November 19, 1871.

Dobbs’ father, Conway Edward Dobbs, is Justice of the Peace for County Antrim, High Sheriff for Carrickfergus in 1875, and High Sheriff for County Louth in 1882. The family spends time living in Dublin which is where Dobbs is born. She attempts to learn Irish. However, when her father dies in 1898 her mother, Sarah Mulholland, daughter of St. Clair Kelvin Mulholland Eglantine, moves the family back to Glenariff.

Dobbs’ interest in learning Irish continues and she finds it easier to learn in Donegal where the language is still spoken. Her first teacher is Hugh Flaitile. She attends the Irish College at Cloughaneely in the Donegal Gaeltacht. She brings the idea of promoting the language to the Glens of Antrim and her circle of friends. Dobbs is one of the small number of Protestant women interested in the Gaelic revival.

The “Great Feis” takes place in Antrim in 1904. Dobbs is a founding member of the Feis na nGleann committee and later a tireless literary secretary. In 1946, the Feis committee decides to honour her by presenting her with an illuminated address. It can be seen today at Portnagolan House with its stained glass windows commemorating a great Irishwoman. During her speech she says, “Ireland is a closed book to those who do not know her language. No one can know Ireland properly until one knows the language. Her treasures are hidden as a book unopened. Open the book and learn to love your language.”

Dobbs writes seven plays, published by Dundalgan Press in 1920, though only three are ever performed. The Doctor and Mrs. McAuley wins the Warden trophy for one-act plays at the Belfast festival in 1913. However, her plays are generally not a success and after 1920 she never writes another. She continues to work on historical and archaeological studies and her articles are published in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, in a German magazine for Celtic studies, in the French Revue Celtique, and in the Irish magazine Eriu.

Roger Casement is a good friend and, although Dobbs never makes her political opinions known, she contributes to his defence costs when he is accused of treason. She also is a member of the Gaelic League and in the executive of Cumann na mBan.

She dies in Portnagalon, County Antrim, on January 2, 1962.


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Assassination of Máire Drumm, VP of Sinn Féin

maire-drummMáire Drumm, vice president of Sinn Féin and a commander in Cumann na mBan, is shot dead on October 28, 1976, by Ulster loyalists dressed as doctors while recovering from an eye operation in Belfast‘s Mater Hospital.

Drumm is born in Newry, County Down to a staunchly Irish republican family. Drumm’s mother has been active in the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. Drumm grows up in the village of Killean, County Armagh, where she plays camogie. She is active in the republican movement after meeting her husband, a republican prisoner. She begins to speak at many rallies and protest meetings and is soon elected as Vice President of Sinn Fein. She becomes involved in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in the 1960s and works to rehouse Catholics forced from their homes by loyalist intimidation.

Drumm is jailed twice for seditious speeches. After she is released from HM Prison Armagh, raids on her house by the security forces escalate. She is widely demonised in the British media and is already a target for assassination when she is admitted to Belfast’s Mater Hospital for eye treatment in October 1976.

While recovering from the operation, Drumm is shot at point blank range in a joint operation by the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association who are able to enter and leave the hospital undisturbed. No one has ever been convicted of her murder.

Drumm’s speeches and quotations can be found on murals across Northern Ireland, including:

“The only people worthy of freedom are those who are prepared to go out and fight for it every day, and die if necessary.”

“We must take no steps backward, our steps must be onward, for if we don’t, the martyrs that died for you, for me, for this country will haunt us forever.”


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Reopening of General Post Office, Dublin

general-post-officeThe restored General Post Office, Dublin, which had been destroyed during the 1916 Easter Rising, is opened by President W. T. Cosgrave on July 11, 1929.

The General Post Office (GPO), is the headquarters of the Irish postal service. The offices are first located at College Green, but in August 1814, construction of a purpose-built headquarters begins. The building on Sackville Street is completed in January 1818 at a cost of £50,000.

According to An Post “The statues on the roof are of Hibernia, a classical representation in female form of the island of Ireland, with Fidelity to one side and Mercury, the messenger of the gods, to the other.”

Five members of the Provisional GovernmentPatrick Pearse, James Connolly, Tom Clarke, Seán MacDiarmada, and Joseph Plunkett — are located at the GPO during the Easter Rising in a 350-strong garrison which also includes Cumann na mBan and Irish Citizen Army members. James Connolly is in charge of the defence of the GPO and directs operations. The GPO garrison barricades surrounding streets and occupies adjoining buildings.

On Monday afternoon the garrison repulses a cavalry attack while, with the breakdown of law and order, many of the stores in Sackville Street are looted. From Wednesday, the GPO and other buildings in Sackville Street come under artillery fire, mostly from the Helga gunboat at anchor in the River Liffey. Connolly believes the British will not use artillery in city areas. By Friday night the GPO is on fire, at which point it is evacuated.

At a Dublin Corporation meeting in 1884 a motion is called to change the name of Sackville Street to O’Connell Street. After forty years of argument, it is changed to O’Connell Street in May 1924.


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The Beginning of the 1916 Easter Rising

proclamation-of-independenceThe Easter Rising, also known as the Easter Rebellion, begins in Dublin 100 years ago today and lasts for six days. The Rising, organised by seven members of the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, is launched to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom is heavily engaged in World War I. It is the most significant uprising in Ireland since the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the first armed action of the Irish revolutionary period.

Shortly before midday, members of the Irish Volunteers, led by schoolmaster and Irish language activist Patrick Pearse and joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly and 200 women of Cumann na mBan, seize key locations in Dublin and proclaim an Irish Republic. The rebels’ plan is to hold Dublin city centre, a large, oval-shaped area bounded by the Grand Canal to the south and the Royal Canal to the north, with the River Liffey running through the middle.

The rebels march to the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare, and occupy the building and hoist two republican flags. Pearse stands outside and reads the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

Elsewhere in Dublin, some of the headquarters battalion under Michael Mallin occupy St. Stephen’s Green, where they dig trenches and barricade the surrounding roads. The 1st battalion, under Edward “Ned” Daly, occupy the Four Courts and surrounding buildings, while a company under Seán Heuston occupies the Mendicity Institution across the River Liffey from the Four Courts. The 2nd battalion, under Thomas MacDonagh, occupies Jacob’s Biscuit Factory. The 3rd battalion, under Éamon de Valera, occupy Boland’s Mill and surrounding buildings. The 4th battalion, under Éamonn Ceannt, occupy the South Dublin Union and the distillery on Marrowbone Lane. From each of these garrisons, small units of rebels establish outposts in the surrounding area.

There are isolated actions in other parts of Ireland, with attacks on the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks at Ashbourne, County Meath and in County Galway, and the seizure of the town of Enniscorthy, County Wexford. Due to a last-minute countermand issued on Saturday, April 22, by Volunteer leader Eoin MacNeill, the number of rebels who mobilise is much lower than expected.

The British Army brings in thousands of reinforcements as well as artillery and a gunboat. There is fierce street fighting on the routes into the city centre, where the rebels put up stiff resistance, slowing the British advance and inflicting heavy casualties. Elsewhere in Dublin, the fighting mainly consists of sniping and long-range gun battles. The main rebel positions are gradually surrounded and bombarded with artillery.

With much greater numbers and heavier weapons, the British Army suppresses the Rising, and Pearse agrees to an unconditional surrender on Saturday, April 29. Almost 500 people are killed during Easter Week. About 54% are civilians, 30% are British military and police, and 16% are Irish rebels. More than 2,600 are wounded. Many of the civilians are killed as a result of the British using artillery and heavy machine guns, or mistaking civilians for rebels. Others are caught in the crossfire in a crowded city. The shelling and the fires leave parts of inner city Dublin in ruins.

After the surrender the country remains under martial law. About 3,500 people are taken prisoner by the British, many of whom have played no part in the Rising, with 1,800 of them being sent to internment camps or prisons in Britain. Most of the leaders of the Rising are executed following courts-martial. The Rising brings physical force republicanism back to the forefront of Irish politics, which for nearly 50 years has been dominated by constitutional nationalism. It, and the British reaction to it, leads to increased popular support for Irish independence. In December 1918, republicans, represented by the reconstituted Sinn Féin party, win a landslide victory in the general election to the British Parliament. They do not take their seats, but instead convene the First Dáil and declare the independence of the Irish Republic, which ultimately leads to the Irish War of Independence.