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


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Birth of Rory O’Connor, Irish Republican Revolutionary

Rory O’Connor (Irish: Ruairí Ó Conchubhair), Irish republican revolutionary, is born in Kildare Street, Dublin, on November 28, 1883.

O’Connor is educated in St. Mary’s College, Dublin, and then in Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare, a public school run by the Jesuit order. It is also attended by the man who later condemns O’Connor to death, his close friend Kevin O’Higgins. He studies experimental physics, logic, and metaphysics. He also attends the College of Science, Merrion Street. He takes a BA (1906) and receives a B.Eng (1911). In 1910, he takes his Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Arts degrees at University College Dublin (UCD), then known as the National University. Prominent in the university’s Literary and Historical Society, he advocates militant constitutional nationalism as one of the many society members active in the Young Ireland branch of the United Irish League.

O’Connor goes to work as a railway engineer, then he moves to Canada where he is an engineer in the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian Northern Railway, being responsible for the construction of 1,500 miles (2,400 km) of railroad. He returns to Ireland in 1915 at Joseph Plunkett‘s request and works for Dublin Corporation as a civil engineer. He joins the Catholic nationalist organisation the Ancient Order of Hibernians and serves in the Easter Rising in 1916 in the GPO as an intelligence officer. He is wounded by a sniper during reconnaissance at the Royal College of Surgeons.

During the subsequent Irish War of Independence (1919-21) O’Connor is Director of Engineering of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a military organisation descended from the Irish Volunteers. The specialist skills of engineering and signaling are essential to the development of the 5th Battalion, Dublin Brigade. Its men are forbidden frontline duty as their contribution is regarded as vital, their number too small. But units only expand on an incremental local basis, disappointing General Richard Mulcahy.

O’Connor is also involved in the Republican breakout from Strangeways Prison in Manchester, England, on October 25, 1919. Michael Collins takes a particular interest in the escape, and actually visits Austin Stack in the prison under a false name to finalise the arrangements. IRA men hold up traffic while a ladder is propped up against the outside of a prison wall. In all six prisoners escape, among them Piaras Beaslaí.

O’Connor refuses to accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which establishes the Irish Free State. It is ratified by a narrow vote in Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament. He and many like him feel that the Treaty copper-fastens the partition of the six counties of Northern Ireland and undermines the Irish Republic declared in 1916.

On January 10, a meeting is held at O’Connor’s home in Monkstown, Dublin. In attendance are all senior anti-Treaty IRA officers except Liam Mellows. O’Connor is appointed to chair this grouping, known as the Republican Military Council. It is agreed that an IRA convention should be called without delay; failing this, a separate GHQ will be formed. At a further meeting in O’Connor’s office on March 20, a temporary IRA GHQ staff is elected under Liam Lynch as chief of staff. O’Connor remains in charge of engineering.

On March 26, 1922, the anti-Treaty officers of the IRA hold a convention in Dublin, in which they reject the Treaty and repudiate the authority of the Dáil. However, they are prepared to discuss a way forward. The convention meets again on April 9. It creates a new army constitution and places the army under a newly elected executive of 16 men, including O’Connor, that are to choose an army council and headquarters staff. Asked by a journalist if this development means the anti-Treatyites ware proposing a “military dictatorship” in Ireland, O’Connor replies, “You can take it that way if you want.”

On April 14, 1922, O’Connor is one of a number of IRA leaders in a 200-strong force that occupies the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the Provisional Government. They intend to provoke the British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them, which they believe will restart the war with Britain and re-unite the IRA against their common enemy. They also occupy other smaller buildings regarded as being associated with the former British administration, such as the Ballast Office and the Freemasons‘ Hall in Molesworth Street, but the Four Courts remains the focus of interest. On June 15, O’Connor sends out men to collect the rifles that belong to the mutineers of the Civic Guards.

Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade the IRA men to leave the Four Courts. At the Third IRA Convention on June 18, the Executive is split over whether the Irish Government should demand that all British troops leave within 72 hours. A motion to this effect, opposed by Lynch, is narrowly defeated, whereupon O’Connor and others leave the meeting to set up a separate GHQ. The IRA effectively splits into two factions opposed to the government.

On June 22, 1922, Sir Henry Wilson is assassinated in London by two IRA men, Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, each a former British soldier. Some now argue that this was done on the orders of Michael Collins, who had been a close friend of Dunne’s in the London Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). Prime Minister David Lloyd George writes an angry letter to Collins, which includes the line “…still less can Mr. Rory O’Connor be permitted to remain his followers and his arsenal in open rebellion in the heart of Dublin… organizing and sending out from this centre enterprises of murder not only in the area of your Government…”

On June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison has kidnapped J. J. “Ginger” O’Connell, a general in the National Army, Collins gives orders for the shelling of the Four Courts with borrowed artillery lent by Winston Churchill. The shelling leads to the Four Courts catching fire, damaging parts of the building in addition to destroying numerous government documents. O’Connor is one of 130 men that surrender on June 30, some of whom are arrested and imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison. This incident marks the official start of the Irish Civil War, as fighting breaks out openly around the country between pro- and anti-Treaty factions.

On December 8, 1922, along with three other republicans, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, captured with the fall of the Four Courts, O’Connor is executed by firing squad in reprisal for the anti-Treaty IRA’s killing of Free State Teachta Dála (TD) Sean Hales. The execution order is signed by Kevin O’Higgins. O’Connor had been best man at O’Higgins’s wedding on October 27, 1921. Their deaths remain a symbol of the bitterness and division of the Irish Civil War. O’Connor, one of 77 republicans executed by the Provisional Government, is seen as a martyr by the Republican movement in Ireland.

On O’Connor’s execution, the equestrienne Joan de Sales La Terriere, a close friend of his, names her son in his honour. “Rory O’Connor Place” in Arklow is named in his honour. There is also a pub in Crumlin, Dublin, named after him and a housing estate near Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, called “Rory O’Connor Park.” A Sinn Féin cumann (UCD) is named after him.

(Pictured: Rory O’Connor addressing members of the IRA’s Dublin City Brigade at Smithfield, April 1922)


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The Convening of the Second Dáil

The Second Dáil (Irish: An Dara Dáil) is Dáil Éireann as it convenes on August 16, 1921 following the dissolution of the First Dáil. The Second Dáil runs until June 8, 1922.

From 1919 to 1922, Dáil Éireann is the revolutionary parliament of the self-proclaimed Irish Republic. The Second Dáil consists of members elected at the 1921 Irish elections, but with only members of Sinn Féin taking their seats. On January 7, 1922, it ratifies the Anglo-Irish Treaty by 64 votes to 57 which ends the Irish War of Independence and leads to the establishment of the Irish Free State on December 6, 1922.

Since 1919, those elected for Sinn Féin at the 1918 Irish general election had abstained from the House of Commons and established Dáil Éireann as a parliament of a self-declared Irish Republic, with members calling themselves Teachtaí Dála or TDs. In December 1920, in the middle of the Irish War of Independence, the British Government passes the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which enacts partition by establishing two home rule parliaments in separate parts of Ireland. These provisions arise out of discussions held at the Irish Convention held in 1917, from which Sinn Féin abstains. In May 1921 the first elections to the House of Commons of Northern Ireland and the House of Commons of Southern Ireland are held, by means of the single transferable vote. On May 10, 1921, the Dáil passes a resolution that the elections scheduled to take place later in the month in both parts of the country will be “regarded as elections to Dáil Éireann.”

In the elections for Southern Ireland, all seats are uncontested, with Sinn Féin winning 124 of the 128 seats, and Independent Unionists winning the four seats representing the Dublin University. In the 1921 Northern Ireland general election, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) wins 40 of the 52 seats, with Sinn Féin and the Nationalist Party winning 6 seats each. Of the six seats won by Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, five are held by people who had also won seats in Southern Ireland.

The Second Dáil responds favourably to the proposal from King George V on June 22, 1921 for a truce, which becomes effective from noon on July 11, 1921. This is upheld by nearly all of the combatants while the months-long process of arranging a treaty gets under way. The Truce allows the Dáil to meet openly without fear of arrest for the first time since September 1919, when it had been banned and driven underground.

During the Second Dáil the Irish Republic and the British Government of David Lloyd George agree to hold peace negotiations. As President of Dáil Éireann, Éamon de Valera is the highest official in the Republic at this time but is notionally only the head of government. In August 1921, to strengthen his status in the negotiations, the Dáil amends the Dáil Constitution to grant him the title President of the Republic, and he thereby becomes head of state.

On September 14, 1921, the Dáil ratifies the appointment of Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Robert Barton, Eamonn Duggan and George Gavan Duffy as envoys plenipotentiary for the peace conference in England. These envoys eventually sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty on December 6. The debate on the Treaty starts on December 14, and continues until January 7, 1922. On that date, the Dáil approves the treaty by 64 in favour to 57 against. As the leader of the anti-Treaty minority, de Valera resigns as President. He allows himself to be nominated again, but is defeated on a vote of 60–58. He is succeeded as president by Arthur Griffith. The anti-Treaty deputies continue to attend the Dáil, with de Valera becoming the first Leader of the Opposition in the Dáil.

The ratification specified by the Treaty is by “a meeting summoned for the purpose of the members elected to sit in the House of Commons of Southern Ireland.” The Dáil vote does not fulfil this because four unionists are absent and one Northern Ireland member is present. The requisite approval comes at a separate meeting on January 14, 1922, attended by the unionists and boycotted by anti-Treaty TDs. The meeting also approves a Provisional Government led by Collins, which runs in parallel to Griffith’s Dáil government and with overlapping membership. The Government of Ireland Act 1920 requires the Commons to be summoned by the Lord Lieutenant and its members to take an oath of allegiance to the king, whereas the meeting on January 14 is summoned by Griffith and the members present do not take an oath.

Under the terms of the Treaty, a Constituent Assembly is to be elected to draft a Constitution for the Irish Free State to take effect by December 6, 1922. The assembly is also to serve as a “Provisional Parliament” to hold the Provisional Government responsible. This election is held on June 16, 1922 pursuant to both a resolution by the Second Dáil on May 20 and a proclamation by the Provisional Government on 27 May 27.

The Third Dáil is elected at the general election held on June 16, 1922. This election is required to be held under the Anglo-Irish Treaty signed on December 6, 1921.

(Pictured: Some members of the Second Dáil at the Grosvenor Hotel in London, seated (L to R) Éamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith, National Library of Ireland, NPA-RPH-10)


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First Assassination by “The Squad”

On July 30, 1919, the first assassination authorised by Michael Collins is carried out by The Squad, also known as the Twelve Apostles, when Detective Sergeant “the Dog” Smith is shot near Drumcondra, Dublin.

The Squad is an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit founded by Collins to counter British intelligence efforts during the Irish War of Independence, mainly by means of assassination.

On April 10, 1919, the First Dáil announces a policy of ostracism of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) 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 members Ben Byrne, Frank Bolster, Mick Keogh, Mick Kennedy, Bill Stapleton and Sam Robinson. Owen Cullen, a member of 2nd Battalion, is driver for a short time, and Paddy Kelly of County Clare for a short time. They are employed full-time and received a weekly wage.

Sometimes, as occasion demands, The Squad is strengthened by members of the IRA Intelligence Staff, the Active Service Unit, munition workers and members of the Dublin Brigade, Tipperary Flying Column men, Dan Breen, Séumas Robinson, Seán Treacy and Seán Hogan, and also Mick Brennan and Michael Prendergast of County Clare. The IRA Intelligence Staff consists of the Director of Intelligence Michael Collins, the Deputy Director of Intelligence Liam Tobin, the Second Deputy Director of Intelligence Tom Cullen, the Third Director of Intelligence Frank Thornton, and members Joe Dolan, Frank Saurin, Ned Kelleher, Joe Guilfoyle, Paddy Caldwell, Paddy Kennedy, Charlie Dalton, Dan McDonnell and Charlie Byrne. The munitions workers include Mat Furlong, Sean Sullivan, Gay McGrath, Martin O’ Kelly, Tom Younge and Chris Reilly.

Other members include Mick Love, Gearoid O’Sullivan, Patrick Caldwell, Charlie Dalton, Mick O’Reilly, Sean Healy, James Ronan, Paddy Lawson, John Dunne, Johnny Wilson and James Heery. Seán Lemass and Stephen Behan, the father of Irish writers Brendan and Dominic Behan, have also been listed as members of the Apostles. There is no hard evidence to support the inclusion of many of the names, but those who subsequently serve in the Irish Army have their active service recorded in their service records held in the Military Archives Department in Cathal Brugha Barracks, Rathmines. Andrew Cooney is also reported to have been associated with The Squad. Stephen Behan’s involvement is first made public in 1962, when the BBC broadcasts an episode of This Is Your Life dedicated to Behan. During the broadcast, remaining members of the squad joined Behan on the set of the show.

Following “The Dog” Smith’s assassination, The Squad continues to target 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 a 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 the middle of 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 will cause the IRA to respond and bring its leaders into the open.

The most well-known operation executed by the Apostles occurs on what becomes known as 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 with fourteen killed and six wounded. In addition to the The Squad, 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, the proceeds from which are for the Irish Republican Prisoners Fund. Fourteen civilians are killed including one of the players, Michael Hogan, and 68 are wounded. The Hogan stand at Croke Park is named after Hogan.

The elimination of the Cairo Gang is seen in Dublin as an intelligence victory, but British Prime Minister David Lloyd George comments dismissively that his men “… got what they deserved, beaten by counter-jumpers…”. Winston Churchill adds that they were “.. careless fellows … who ought to have taken precautions.”

Some members of The Squad are hanged in 1921 for the killings on Bloody Sunday, including Thomas Whelan and Patrick Moran. Moran had killed a vet, Patrick MacCormack, who seems to have been an innocent victim.

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 amalgamated into the Dublin Guard, under Paddy Daly. Under the influence of Daly and Michael Collins, most of the Guard take the Free State side and join the National 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. They are also involved in several atrocities against Republican prisoners, particularly after the death of Collins, due to many of them having personal ties with him.

Bill Stapleton goes on to become a director in Bord na Móna, Charles Dalton and Frank Saurin become directors in the Irish Sweepstakes. In October 1923, Commandant James Conroy is implicated in the murder of two Jewish men, Bernard Goldberg and Emmanuel ‘Ernest’ Kahn. He avoids arrest by fleeing to Mexico, returning later to join the Blueshirts. A later application for an army pension is rejected. The killings are the subject of a 2010 investigative documentary by RTÉ, CSÍ: Murder in Little Jerusalem.


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Birth of Terence MacSwiney, Playwright, Author & Lord Mayor of Cork

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Terence James MacSwiney, Irish playwright, author, politician and Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish War of Independence, is born at 23 North Main Street, Cork, County Cork, on March 28, 1879.

MacSwiney is one of eight children of John and Mary MacSwiney. His father had volunteered in 1868 to fight as a papal guard against Giuseppe Garibaldi, had been a schoolteacher in London and later opened a tobacco factory in Cork. Following the failure of this business, John MacSwiney emigrates to Australia in 1885, leaving the children in the care of their mother and his eldest daughter.

MacSwiney is educated by the Christian Brothers at the North Monastery school in Cork, but leaves at fifteen to help support the family. He becomes an accountancy clerk but continues his studies and matriculates successfully. He continues in full-time employment while he studies at the Royal University (now University College Cork), graduating with a degree in Mental and Moral Science in 1907.

In 1901 MacSwiney helps to found the Celtic Literary Society, and in 1908 he founds the Cork Dramatic Society with Daniel Corkery and writes a number of plays for them. His first play, The Last Warriors of Coole, is produced in 1910. His fifth play, The Revolutionist (1915), takes the political stand made by a single man as its theme.

Described as a sensitive poet-intellectual, MacSwiney’s writings in the newspaper Irish Freedom bring him to the attention of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He is one of the founders of the Cork Brigade of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and is President of the Cork branch of Sinn Féin. He founds a newspaper, Fianna Fáil, in 1914, but it is suppressed after only eleven issues. In April 1916, he is intended to be second in command of the Easter Rising in counties Cork and Kerry, but stands down his forces on the order of Eoin MacNeill.

Following the rising, MacSwiney is imprisoned by the British Government under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 in Reading and Wakefield Gaols until December 1916. In February 1917 he is deported from Ireland and imprisoned in Shrewsbury and Bromyard internment camps until his release in June 1917. It is during his exile in Bromyard that he marries Muriel Murphy of the Cork distillery-owning family. In November 1917, he is arrested in Cork for wearing an Irish Republican Army (IRA) uniform, and, inspired by the example of Thomas Ashe, goes on a hunger strike for three days prior to his release.

In the 1918 Irish general election, MacSwiney is returned unopposed to the first Dáil Éireann as Sinn Féin representative for Mid Cork, succeeding the Nationalist MP D. D. Sheehan. After the murder of his friend Tomás Mac Curtain, the Lord Mayor of Cork, on March 20, 1920, he is elected as Lord Mayor. On August 12, 1920, he is arrested in Cork for possession of “seditous articles and documents,” and also possession of a cipher key. He is summarily tried by a court on August 16 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment at Brixton Prison in England.

In prison MacSwiney immediately starts a hunger strike in protest of his internment and the fact that he was tried by a military court. Eleven other Irish Republican prisoners in Cork Jail go on hunger strike at the same time. On August 26, the British Government states that “the release of the Lord Mayor would have disastrous results in Ireland and would probably lead to a mutiny of both military and police in south of Ireland.”

MacSwiney’s hunger strike gains world attention. The British Government is threatened with a boycott of British goods by Americans, while four countries in South America appeal to Pope Benedict XV to intervene. Protests are held in Germany and France as well. An Australian member of Parliament, Hugh Mahon, is expelled from the Parliament of Australia for “seditious and disloyal utterances at a public meeting,” after protesting against the actions of the British Government. Two weeks later, the Spanish Catalan organization Autonomous Center of Employees of Commerce and Industry (CADCI) sends a petition to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George calling for his release and the newspaper of the organization, Acció (Acción in Spanish), begins a campaign for MacSwiney.

Food is often placed near MacSwiney to persuade him to give up the hunger strike. Attempts at force-feeding are undertaken in the final days of his strike. On October 20, 1920 he slips into a coma and dies in London’s Brixton Prison on October 25, after 73 days on hunger strike. His body lay in St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark in London where 30,000 people file past it. Fearing large-scale demonstrations in Dublin, the authorities divert his coffin directly to Cork, and his funeral in the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne on October 31 attracts huge crowds. He is buried in the Republican plot in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork. Arthur Griffith delivers the graveside oration. His death brings him and the Irish Republican campaign to international attention.


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The McMahon Murders

The McMahon murders occur on March 24, 1922 when six Catholic civilians are shot dead at the home of the McMahon family in Belfast. Police officers break into their house at night and shoot all eight males inside, in an apparent sectarian attack. The victims are businessman Owen McMahon, four of his sons, and one of his employees. Two others are shot but survive, and a female family member is assaulted. The survivors say that most of the gunmen wore police uniforms and it is suspected that they were members of the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC). It is believed to be a reprisal for the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) killing of two policemen the previous day.

Following the end of the Irish War of Independence in July 1921 and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, the new unionist Government of Northern Ireland establishes the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), a quasi-military reserve police force to the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), to counter the IRA.

The McMahon killings are believed to be a reprisal for the IRA’s killing of two USC policemen in Belfast. On March 23, 1922, USC officers Thomas Cunningham and William Cairnside are patrolling Great Victoria Street in the city centre when they are approached by a group of IRA members and shot dead. Two Catholics, Peter Murphy (61) and Sarah McShane (15), are shot dead in a suspected reprisal attack several hours later in the Catholic Short Strand area by unidentified gunmen. The McMahon family has no connection to any paramilitary violence.

At about 1:00 a.m. on March 24, 1922, two men wearing police uniforms seize a sledgehammer from a Belfast Corporation workman, who is guarding a building site at Carlisle Circus. A curfew is in place at the time, due to the daily violence in the city. At nearby Clifton Avenue they meet three other men and the party of five proceed to the home of Owen McMahon. Eight males and three females are in the house that night. The males are Owen, his six sons, and Edward McKinney, a parish just north of Buncrana in Inishowen, County Donegal. He works for the McMahons as a barman. The women are Owen’s wife Eliza, her daughter and her niece. At about 1:20 a.m., the gang uses the sledgehammer to break down the door of the McMahon residence.

Owen’s wife, Eliza, says that four of the men wore police caps and carried revolvers while another wore civilian clothes. John McMahon, one of Owen’s sons, says, “Four of the five men were dressed in the uniform of the RIC but, from their appearance, I know they are Specials, not regular RIC.” All of the men hide their faces. The four men in police uniform rush up the stairs and herd the males into the dining room. The women are taken into another room. When Owen asks why his family is being singled-out, one of the gunmen says it is because he is “a respected papist.” The gunmen say “you boys say your prayers,” before opening fire. The shooting continues for five minutes. Five of the men are killed outright and two are wounded, one fatally.

Owen McMahon (50), Gerard McMahon (15), Frank McMahon (24), Patrick McMahon (22) and Edward McKinney (25) are killed outright while Bernard McMahon (26) dies later. The youngest McMahon son, 12-year-old Michael, survives the attack by hiding behind furniture and pretending to be hit. John McMahon (30) survives despite serious gunshot wounds. Eliza McMahon raises the alarm by opening the drawing room window and shouting “Murder! Murder!” A matron at an adjoining nursing home is alerted and phones the police and an ambulance.

It is alleged that a group of policemen operating out of Brown Square Barracks in the Shankill Road area are behind the killings. This has never been proved, but historian Eamon Phoenix, of Stranmillis University College in Belfast, has said there is “strong circumstantial evidence” that District Inspector John Nixon was responsible. Historian Tim Pat Coogan believes the police were responsible. An inquiry is carried out by the Department of Defence of the Irish Free State, but not by the Northern Irish authorities. A 1924 Free State report alleges that twelve policemen, whom the report identifies by name, had carried out the McMahon murders, as well as several other attacks on Catholics.

The killings cause outrage among Belfast’s Catholic population and over 10,000 people attend the funerals of those killed.

David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, worried that the violence could collapse the new Northern Ireland administration, organise a meeting in London between Irish republican leader Michael Collins and Sir James Craig, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, both to try to stop the IRA violence which Collins has been tacitly encouraging and supporting, and to pressure Craig to provide more protection for Catholics. Craig denies the nationalist assertion that the McMahon killings were part of an anti-Catholic pogrom on behalf of state forces.

No one is ever prosecuted for the killings but District Inspector John Nixon of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) is strongly suspected of being responsible. Nixon is later forced to step down from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the force that succeeds the RIC in June 1922, albeit on full pension, in 1924 after being heard giving (in breach of police regulations) a political speech to an Orange Order meeting saying that, “not an inch of Ulster should be yielded” to the Free State.


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British Ultimatum to the Irish Delegation at the Anglo-Irish Treaty Talks

The Irish delegation at the Anglo-Irish Treaty talks in London are given an ultimatum by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George on December 5, 1921. Sign the treaty or face “immediate and terrible war.”

In 1920, during the Irish War of Independence, the Government of Ireland Act not only establishes the new state of Northern Ireland but gives that state the right to opt-out of a future self-governing Irish Free State within the British Commonwealth of Nations.

The Northern state consists of the six northeastern counties of Ulster with a unionist majority. They are Antrim, Down, Armagh, Derry, Tyrone, and Fermanagh. Belfast is to be the seat of a government and hold limited devolved powers. The counties of Donegal, Cavan, and Monaghan are to be absorbed within the Irish Free State controlled from parliament in Dublin.

Irish nationalists are dismayed with the plan. Protestant Unionists, particularly those living within the boundaries of the new state, accept and start to implement the Act. Sectarian attacks are launched upon Catholic homes in Belfast, Derry, Banbridge, Lisburn, and Dromore. Catholics are driven from Belfast shipyards and from various engineering works in the city. Supposedly these attacks are in revenge for Irish Republican Army (IRA) assassinations.

The IRA continues the campaign to establish a republic with the Irish War Of Independence. By the middle of 1921, both sides are exhausted and a truce is called on June 9.

In July 1921, Éamon DeValera, the president of Dáil Éireann, goes to London to meet with Prime Minister Lloyd George. They agree an Irish delegation will come to London to discuss terms in the autumn.

The delegation appointed by the Dáil to travel to London consists of Arthur Griffith (Minister for Foreign Affairs and chairman of the delegation); Michael Collins (Minister for Finance and deputy chairman of the delegation); Robert Barton (Minister for Economic Affairs); George Gavan Duffy and Éamonn Duggan, with Erskine Childers, Fionán Lynch, Diarmuid O’Hegarty, and John Chartres providing secretarial assistance. DeValera himself does not attend. Future historians wonder if he knew they would not be able to negotiate a 32 county Irish Republic.

During the debate, Lloyd George insists Ireland remain part of the Commonwealth and Dáil Éireann members take the oath of allegiance to the British throne. After a delay of two months, Lloyd George delivers the ultimatum on December 5, sign a treaty within three days or there will be war.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty is to give Ireland a 26 county Free State with Dominion status. The right to raise taxes, regulate foreign trade, independence in internal affairs, own an army, and the oath of allegiance is changed to one of fidelity.

The British are to retain three naval bases within the jurisdiction of the Free State, at Cobh, Lough Swilly, and Berehaven. The Northern Ireland boundary is to be determined by a commission. This gives false hope to large tracts of Tyrone, Fermanagh, Down, Armagh, and Derry City would be given to the Free State as they have Catholic majorities.

Just after 2:00 AM on December 6, 1921, the Irish delegation, without consulting the Dáil, finally sign a treaty with the British. Collins writes, prophetically, later on the day of the signing, “early this morning I signed my death warrant.”

The Treaty displeases the Catholics in the north and the unionists in the south. Meanwhile, many of those involved in the conflict are abhorred at the fact that not all of Ireland is to leave the United Kingdom.

(From: “The Anglo-Irish Treaty (1921)” by Brian O’Neill, Your Irish Culture, http://www.yourirish.com, May 20, 2020)


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Éamon de Valera Meets David Lloyd George in London

On July 14, 1921, just three days after a truce is implemented ending the Irish War of Independence, Éamon de Valera, President of Dáil Éireann, meets with British Prime Minister David Lloyd George in London.

Francis Stevenson, Private Secretary to Lloyd George recalls, “I have never seen David so excited as he was before de Valera arrived, at 4:30. He kept walking in and out of my room… As I told him afterwards, he was bringing up all his guns! He had a big map of the British Empire hung up on the wall in the Cabinet room, with its great blotches of red all over it. This was to impress de Valera with the greatness of the British Empire and to get him to recognise it, and the King.” De Valera apparently is not impressed.

When de Valera, Richard Barton and Art O’Brien arrive at Downing Street, “cheers were raised, Sinn Féin flags were displayed, and the crowd sang Irish airs.” As the meeting goes on, a “large crowd of Irish sympathisers knelt in the rain at Whitehall, at the end of Downing Street, recited the Rosary, and sang several hymns. Before the prayers started they sang “Ireland a Nation.” According to a reporter covering the event, the singing of Irish songs and the praying never ceases.

Six days later, Britain makes its first formal proposal. The main negotiations take place in December culminating with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty on December 6, 1921.

(From: Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland, http://www.stairnaheireann.net, July 14, 2016 | Photo credit: National Library of Ireland collection, dated Thursday, July 14, 1921 (at approximately 5:30 PM), outside Downing Street as de Valera meets Lloyd George, at the first of four meetings held between the two in July 1921.)


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Death of Terence MacSwiney, Playwright & Politician

Terence James MacSwiney, Irish playwright, author, politician and Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish War of Independence, dies in London‘s Brixton Prison on October 25, 1920 after 73 days on hunger strike. His death brings him and the Irish Republican campaign to international attention.

MacSwiney is born at 23 North Main Street, Cork, County Cork, one of eight children of John and Mary MacSwiney. Following the failure of this business, John MacSwiney emigrates to Australia in 1885 leaving the children in the care of their mother and his eldest daughter.

MacSwiney is educated by the Christian Brothers at the North Monastery school in Cork, but leaves at fifteen to help support the family. He becomes an accountancy clerk but continues his studies and matriculates successfully. He continues in full-time employment while he studies at the Royal University (now University College Cork), graduating with a degree in Mental and Moral Science in 1907.

In 1901 MacSwiney helps to found the Celtic Literary Society, and in 1908 he founds the Cork Dramatic Society with Daniel Corkery and writes a number of plays for them. His first play, The Last Warriors of Coole, is produced in 1910. His fifth play, The Revolutionist (1915), takes the political stand made by a single man as its theme.

Described as a sensitive poet-intellectual, MacSwiney’s writings in the newspaper Irish Freedom bring him to the attention of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He is one of the founders of the Cork Brigade of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and is President of the Cork branch of Sinn Féin. He founds a newspaper, Fianna Fáil, in 1914, but it is suppressed after only 11 issues. In April 1916, he is intended to be second in command of the Easter Rising in Cork and Kerry, but stands down his forces on the order of Eoin MacNeill.

Following the rising, MacSwiney is imprisoned by the British Government under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 in Reading and Wakefield Gaols until December 1916. In February 1917 he is deported from Ireland and imprisoned in Shrewsbury and Bromyard internment camps until his release in June 1917. It is during his exile in Bromyard that he marries Muriel Murphy of the Cork distillery-owning family. In November 1917, he is arrested in Cork for wearing an Irish Republican Army (IRA) uniform, and, inspired by the example of Thomas Ashe, goes on a hunger strike for three days prior to his release.

In the 1918 Irish general election, MacSwiney is returned unopposed to the first Dáil Éireann as Sinn Féin representative for Mid Cork, succeeding the Nationalist MP D. D. Sheehan. After the murder of his friend Tomás Mac Curtain, the Lord Mayor of Cork on March 20, 1920, he is elected as Lord Mayor. On August 12, 1920, he is arrested in Cork for possession of “seditous articles and documents,” and also possession of a cipher key. He is summarily tried by a court on August 16 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment at Brixton Prison in England.

In prison MacSwiney immediately starts a hunger strike in protest of his internment and the fact that he was tried by a military court. Eleven other Irish Republican prisoners in Cork Jail go on hunger strike at the same time. On August 26, the British Government states that “the release of the Lord Mayor would have disastrous results in Ireland and would probably lead to a mutiny of both military and police in south of Ireland.”

MacSwiney’s hunger strike gains world attention. The British Government is threatened with a boycott of British goods by Americans, while four countries in South America appeal to Pope Benedict XV to intervene. Protests are held in Germany and France as well. An Australian member of Parliament, Hugh Mahon, is expelled from the Parliament of Australia for “seditious and disloyal utterances at a public meeting,” after protesting against the actions of the British Government. Two weeks later, the Spanish Catalan organization Autonomous Center of Employees of Commerce and Industry (CADCI) sends a petition to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George calling for his release and the newspaper of the organization, Acció (Acción in Spanish), begins a campaign for MacSwiney.

Food is often placed near MacSwiney to persuade him to give up the hunger strike. Attempts at force-feeding are undertaken in the final days of his strike. On October 20, 1920 he slips into a coma and dies five days later after 73 days on hunger strike. His body lay in St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark in London where 30,000 people file past it. Fearing large-scale demonstrations in Dublin, the authorities divert his coffin directly to Cork, and his funeral in the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne on October 31 attracts huge crowds. He is buried in the Republican plot in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork. Arthur Griffith delivers the graveside oration.


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The Irish Convention

irish-convention-1917The Irish Convention, an attempt by David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, to arrive at a political settlement, meets at Regent House, Trinity College Dublin beginning on July 25, 1917. The opposition of Sinn Féin and the Ulster unionists ultimately render it irrelevant.

The Irish Convention is an assembly which sits in Dublin from July 1917 until March 1918 to address the Irish question and other constitutional problems relating to an early enactment of self-government for Ireland, to debate its wider future, discuss and come to an understanding on recommendations as to the best manner and means this goal can be achieved. It is a response to the dramatically altered Irish political climate after the 1916 Easter rebellion and is proposed by Lloyd George in May 1917 to John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, announcing that “Ireland should try her hand at hammering out an instrument of government for her own people.”

The Convention is publicly called in June 1917, to be composed of representative Irishmen from different political parties and spheres of interest. After months of deliberations, the Convention’s final report, which had been agreed upon in March 1918, is seriously undermined. With the urgent need for military manpower on the Western Front following the German Spring Offensive, the government decides in April 1918 to simultaneously introduce Home Rule and apply conscription to Ireland. This “dual policy” of conscription and devolution heralds the end of a political era.

(Pictured: Group portrait of the members of the Irish Convention at Trinity College, taken on August 21, 1917 | National Library of Ireland, NPA Conv.)


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Signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty

anglo-irish-treatyThe Anglo-Irish Treaty, commonly known as The Treaty and officially the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty Between Great Britain and Ireland, is signed in the early morning hours of December 6, 1921 by representatives of the Irish government appointed by President Éamon de Valera and those negotiating for the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, ending the Irish War of Independence against Great Britain. It is then, and remains, one of the most debated moments in Irish history.

The Treaty provides for the establishment of the Irish Free State within a year as a self-governing dominion within the “community of nations known as the British Empire“, a status “the same as that of the Dominion of Canada.” It also provides Northern Ireland, which had been created by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, an option to opt out of the Irish Free State, which it exercises.

The agreement is signed in London by representatives of the British government, which includes Winston Churchill and Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who are old masters at the game of politics, and by representatives of the Irish Republic including Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith, who have nowhere near the political acumen of the British delegation. De Valera, a shrewd, experienced politician, may have been the only man in all of Ireland who might have matched them, but he refuses to join the negotiations.

The Irish representatives have plenipotentiary status acting on behalf of the Irish Republic, though the British government declines to recognise that status. As required by its terms, the Treaty is approved by “a meeting” of the members elected to sit in the House of Commons of Southern Ireland and separately by the British Parliament. In reality, Dáil Éireann, the legislative assembly for the de facto Irish Republic, first debates then approves the treaty. Members then proceed with the “meeting.” Though the Treaty is narrowly approved, the split leads to the Irish Civil War, which is won by the pro-treaty side.

The Irish Free State as contemplated by the Treaty comes into existence when its constitution becomes law on December 6, 1922 by a royal proclamation.

(Pictured: Michael Collins signs the Anglo-Irish Treaty on December 6, 1921)