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


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Opening of the Custom House in Dublin

custom-houseThe Custom House (Irish: Teach an Chustaim), a neoclassical 18th century building in Dublin which houses the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, opens on November 7, 1791. It is located on the north bank of the River Liffey, on Custom House Quay between Butt Bridge and Talbot Memorial Bridge.

A previous Custom House had been built in 1707 by engineer Thomas Burgh. However, by the late 18th century it is deemed unfit for purpose.

The building of a new Custom House for Dublin is the idea of John Beresford, who becomes first commissioner of revenue for Ireland in 1780. In 1781 he appoints James Gandon as architect, after Thomas Cooley, the original architect on the project, dies. This is Gandon’s first large scale commission. The new Custom House is unpopular with the Dublin Corporation and some city merchants who complain that it moves the axis of the city, would leave little room for shipping, and is being built on what at the time is a swamp. Purchase of land is delayed and proves exorbitant and the laying of foundations is disrupted by the High Sheriff and members of the Dublin Corporation with a mob of several thousand. However, Beresford is determined to complete the project and ignores the protests.

Construction begins in 1781, and for his assistants Gandon chooses Irish artists such as Meath stone-cutter Henry Darley, mason John Semple, and carpenter Hugh Henry. Every available mason in Dublin is engaged in the work. When it is completed and opens for business on November 7, 1791, it has cost £200,000 to build – a considerable sum at the time. The four facades of the building are decorated with coats-of-arms and ornamental sculptures by Edward Smyth representing Ireland’s rivers. Another artist, Henry Banks, is responsible for the statue on the dome and other statues.

As the port of Dublin moves further downriver, the building’s original use for collecting custom duties becomes obsolete, and it is used as the headquarters of local government in Ireland. During the Irish War of Independence in 1921, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) burns down the Custom House in an attempt to disrupt British rule in Ireland. Gandon’s original interior is completely destroyed in the fire and the central dome collapses. A large quantity of irreplaceable historical records are also destroyed in the fire. Despite achieving its objectives, the attack on the Custom House is a setback for the IRA as a large number of Volunteers are captured either during the attack or when falling back.

After the Anglo-Irish Treaty, it is restored by the Irish Free State government. The results of this reconstruction can still be seen on the building’s exterior today. The dome is rebuilt using Irish Ardbraccan limestone which is noticeably darker than the Portland stone used in the original construction. This is done as an attempt to promote Irish resources.

Further restoration and cleaning of the stonework is done by an Office of Public Works team in the 1980s.

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Birth of William Allingham, Poet, Diarist, & Editor

William Allingham, Irish poet, diarist, and editor, is born on March 19, 1824 in the little port of Ballyshannon, County Donegal. He writes several volumes of lyric verse, and his poem “The Faeries” is much anthologised. However, he is better known for his posthumously published Diary, in which he records his lively encounters with Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, and other writers and artists. His wife, Helen Allingham, is a well-known water-colorist and illustrator.

Allingham is the son of the manager of a local bank who is of English descent. His younger brothers and sisters are Catherine (b. 1826), John (b. 1827), Jane (b. 1829), Edward (b. 1831; who lived only a few months), and a still-born brother (b. 1833). During his childhood his parents move twice within the town, where the boy enjoys the country sights and gardens, learns to paint, and listens to his mother’s piano-playing. His mother dies when he is nine years old.

Allingham obtains a post in the custom house of his native town, and holds several similar posts in Ireland and England until 1870. It is during this period that Poems (1850), which includes his well-known poem “The Fairies,” and Day and Night Songs (1855) are published.  Lawrence Bloomfield in Ireland, his most ambitious though not his most successful work, a narrative poem illustrative of Irish social questions, appears in 1864. He also edits The Ballad Book for the Golden Treasury series in 1864, and Fifty Modern Poems in 1865.

In April 1870, Allingham retires from the customs service, moves to London and becomes sub-editor of Fraser’s Magazine, eventually becoming editor in succession to James Anthony Froude in June 1874, a post he holds until 1879. On August 22, 1874 he marries the illustrator, Helen Paterson, who is twenty-four years younger than him. His wife gives up her work as an illustrator and becomes well known under her married name as a water-colour painter. At first the couple lives in London, at 12 Trafalgar Square, Chelsea, near Allingham’s friend, Thomas Carlyle, and it is there that they have their first two children – Gerald Carlyle (b. November 1875) and Eva Margaret (b. February 1877). Allingham’s Songs, Poems and Ballads is published in 1877. In 1881, after the death of Carlyle, the Allinghams move to Sandhills near Witley in Surrey, where their third child, Henry William, is born in 1882. At this period Allingham publishes Evil May Day (1883), Blackberries (1884), and Irish Songs and Poems (1887).

In 1888, because of William’s declining health, they move back to the capital, to the heights of Hampstead village. However, on November 18, 1889, William Allingham dies at Hampstead. According to his wishes he is cremated. His ashes are interred at St. Anne’s church in his native Ballyshannon.

Posthumously Allingham’s Varieties in Prose is published in 1893. William Allingham A Diary, edited by Mrs. Helen Allingham and D. Radford, is published in 1907. It contains Allingham’s reminiscences of Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, and other writers and artists.


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Founding of “The Squad” (“The Twelve Apostles”)

the-squadThe Squad, originally nicknamed the Twelve Apostles, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit founded by Michael Collins to counter British intelligence efforts during the Irish War of Independence, is officially established on September 19, 1919 at 46 Rutland Square although by this time it has already been in operation for two months and has already carried out two killings.

On April 10, 1919, the First Dáil announces a policy of ostracism of Royal Irish Constabulary men. At the time Sinn Féin official policy is against acts of violence. Boycotting, persuasion, and mild intimidation succeed against many officers. However others escalate their activities against republicans and in March 1920 Collins asks Dick McKee to select a small group to form an assassination unit.

When the squad is formed, it comes directly under the control of the Director of Intelligence or his deputy and under no other authority. The Squad is commanded by Mick McDonnell.

The original ‘Twelve Apostles’ are Mick McDonnell, Tom Keogh, Jimmy Slattery, Paddy Daly, Joe Leonard, Ben Barrett, Vincent Byrne, Sean Doyle, Paddy Griffin, Eddie Byrne, Mick Reilly, and Jimmy Conroy. After some time the Squad is strengthened with the addition of Ben Byrne, Frank Bolster, Mick Keogh, Mick Kennedy, Bill Stapleton, and Sam Robinson. They are employed full-time and receive a weekly wage.

Sometimes the squad is strengthened as occasion demands by members of the Intelligence staff, the Active Service Unit, munition workers, and members of the Dublin Brigade.

On July 30, 1919, the first assassination authorised by Michael Collins is carried out when Detective Sergeant “the Dog” Smith is shot near Drumcondra, Dublin. The Squad continues targeting plainclothes police, members of the G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and occasionally, problematic civil servants. Organisationally it operates as a subsection of Collins’ Intelligence Headquarters. Two of the executions by The Squad are the killing on January 21, 1920 of RIC Inspector William Redmond of the DMP “G” Division and on March 2, 1920 of British double agent John Charles Byrnes.

One of the Apostles’ particular targets is the Cairo Gang, a deep-cover British intelligence group, so called since it has either been largely assembled from intelligence officers serving in Cairo or from the Dublin restaurant called The Cairo, which the gang frequents. Sir Henry Wilson brings in the Cairo Gang in mid-1920, explicitly to deal with Michael Collins and his organization. Given carte blanche in its operations by Wilson, the Cairo Gang adopts the strategy of assassinating members of Sinn Féin unconnected with the military struggle, assuming that this would cause the IRA to respond and bring its leaders into the open.

The most well-known operation executed by the Apostles occurs on Bloody Sunday, November 21, 1920, when British MI5 officers, linked to the Cairo Gang and significantly involved in spying, are shot at various locations in Dublin. Fourteen are killed and six are wounded. In addition to the Twelve Apostles, a larger number of IRA personnel are involved in this operation. The only IRA man captured during the operation is Frank Teeling. In response to the killings, the Black and Tans retaliate by shooting up a Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary at Croke Park, killing fourteen civilians including one of the players, Michael Hogan, and wounding sixty-eight. The Hogan stand at Croke Park is named after him.

In May 1921, after the IRA’s Dublin Brigade takes heavy casualties during the burning of the Custom House, the Squad and the Brigade’s Active Service Unit are combined into the Dublin Guard, under the direction of Paddy Daly. Under the influence of Daly and Michael Collins, most of the Guard takes the Free State side and joins the Irish Army in the Irish Civil War of 1922-23. During this conflict some of them are attached to the Criminal Investigation Department and are accused of multiple assassinations of Anti-Treaty fighters.

(Pictured: Squad Members Mick McDonnell, Liam Tobin, Vinny Byrne, Paddy Daly, and Jim Slattery)