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


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Execution of Major Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith

geoffrey-lee-compton-smithMajor Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith (DSO) of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers is captured and executed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 30, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

Compton-Smith was born in 1889 in South Kensington, London. After finishing school, he decides not to follow the family tradition of studying law. He actually wants to become an artist, but his father insists that he join the army. He studies at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and during World War I his regiment is sent to France. In 1917 he is wounded at the Battle of Arras, but he continues to fight on. He is awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). In 1919 he is sent to serve in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence.

In 1919 Compton-Smith is commander of the British Army base at Ballyvonane, near Buttevant, but he is also an intelligence officer. As an officer he also sometimes presides over courts martial. In January 1921, for instance, three IRA volunteers are tried by him for involvement in the ambush at Shinanagh, near Charleville, and he sentences them each to six months.

February 1921 is a bad time for the IRA in County Cork. They suffer major losses at the ambushes at Clonmult and Mourne Abbey, and several volunteers are taken prisoner, four of whom are sentenced to death. The IRA believes that these death sentences might be commuted if a British officer is held as a hostage. This leads to the capture of Compton-Smith. On April 16, 1921 he travels to Blarney, supposedly on a sketching trip but actually to meet a nurse in Victoria Barracks with whom he is having an affair. The IRA has spies in Victoria Barracks who likely tip off the IRA that Compton-Smith is coming to Blarney. A squad led by Frank Busteed easily capture him after he gets off the train.

Busteed then meets with Jackie O’Leary, the IRA battalion commander. It is decided that Donoughmore is the perfect place to keep a hostage, because parts of the parish are remote and the IRA is strong there.

On April 18, under the cover of darkness, Compton-Smith is transferred by car to Knockane House, an abandoned big house in Donoughmore. The following night he is moved again, this time by pony and trap, to Barrahaurin, a remote townland in the Boggeragh Mountains. He is kept there for the last eleven days of his life, on the small farm of Jack and Mary Moynihan. He is held prisoner in a shed, always under guard. Every evening he is brought into the house, where he eats and stays at the fireside. He and his guards have conversations about history and politics.

The four IRA prisoners are executed on April 28, 1921. On April 30, O’Leary informs Compton-Smith that he is going to be executed. He then writes a final letter to his wife. He tells her that he will die with her name on his lips and her face before his eyes and that he will “die like an Englishman and a soldier.” He also writes a letter to his regiment and one to Lt. General Strickland.

After finishing his letters, Compton-Smith is led up into Barrahaurin bog behind the Moynihan house, to a place where his grave had already been dug, and is given a final cigarette. In his witness statement Maurice Brew writes, “When removed to the place of execution he placed his cigarette case in his breast pocket of his tunic … He then lighted a cigarette and said that when he dropped the cigarette it could be taken as a signal by the execution squad to open fire.”

It is not until late May, following the discovery of the cache of letters in a Dublin raid, that the Compton-Smith family is informed of his death. His father, William, then starts a campaign to find his son’s body. He wrote letters to MPs and to the British Army, seeking information and help. He also writes to Erskine Childers but gets no reply. He offers a reward of £500 for information, but only The Irish Times agrees to print his advertisement.

In November 1921 a cousin of Compton-Smith’s wife, Gladys, meets Michael Collins in London and asks him for help in finding the body. Correspondence between Collins and the Compton-Smith family suggests that Collins is trying to help in 1922, but he fails to get any results before he is assassinated at Béal na Bláth later that same year.

On March 3, 1926 Compton-Smith’s grave is discovered by the Gardaí. The newspapers report that the remains, because of the conditions of the bog, “were not so badly decomposed as to render identification impossible.” The body is brought to Collins Barracks in Cork. On March 5 the Gardaí send a telegram to the Compton-Smiths, informing them that the body has been located.

The reburial of Compton-Smith is carried out with great dignity on March 19, 1926. The Irish Army escorts the coffin from Collins Barracks to Penrose Quay, where British forces from Spike Island take the coffin on board a boat. While the boat travels down the River Lee, the Irish Army’s guard of honour presents arms and sounds the “Last Post.” The British then bring the coffin to Carlisle Fort, near Whitegate, where it was buried in the in the British Military Cemetery with full military honours.


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Birth of Field Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson

henry-hughes-wilsonField Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson, 1st Baronet, GCB, DSO, one of the most senior British Army staff officers of World War I and briefly an Irish unionist politician, is born at Currygrane in Ballinalee, County Longford on May 5, 1864.

Wilson attends Marlborough public school between September 1877 and Easter 1880, before leaving for a crammer to prepare for the Army.

Wilson serves as Commandant of the Staff College, Camberley, and then as Director of Military Operations at the War Office, in which post he plays a vital role in drawing up plans to deploy an Expeditionary Force to France in the event of war. During these years he acquires a reputation as a political intriguer for his role in agitating for the introduction of conscription and in the Curragh incident of 1914, when he encourages senior officers to resign rather than move against the Ulster Volunteers.

As Sub Chief of Staff to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), Wilson is John French‘s most important adviser during the 1914 campaign, but his poor relations with Douglas Haig and William Robertson see him sidelined from top decision-making in the middle years of the war. He plays an important role in Anglo-French military relations in 1915 and, after his only experience of field command as a corps commander in 1916, again as an ally of the controversial French General Robert Nivelle in early 1917. Later in 1917 he is informal military advisor to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and then British Permanent Military Representative at the Supreme War Council at Versailles.

In 1918 Wilson serves as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, the professional head of the British Army. He continues to hold this position after the war, a time when the Army is being sharply reduced in size whilst attempting to contain industrial unrest in the UK and nationalist unrest in Mesopotamia, Iraq and Egypt. He also plays an important role in the Irish War of Independence.

After retiring from the army Wilson serves briefly as a Member of Parliament, and also as security advisor to the Government of Northern Ireland. He is assassinated on his own doorstep by two Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen on June 22, 1922 while returning home from unveiling the Great Eastern Railway War Memorial at Liverpool Street station.


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Birth of Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne

robert-blair-paddy-mayneRobert Blair “Paddy” Mayne, British Army soldier, solicitor, Ireland rugby union international, amateur boxer, and a founding member of the Special Air Service (SAS), is born in Newtownards, County Down on January 11, 1915.

Mayne attends school at Regent House School, a school for students age 4 to 18. While at Regent he discovers his skill and love for the game of rugby. He also enjoys cricket and golf and becomes a marksman with the rifle club. He goes on to Queen’s University Belfast to study law. At university he takes up boxing and becomes the Irish Universities Heavyweight Champion in August 1936. He also wins the Scrabo Golf Club President’s cup in 1937. He graduates from Queen’s University in 1939.

During 1938, Mayne travels to Africa on the 1938 British Lions Tour to South Africa. He plays on a team that tours around Africa playing other local clubs. While traveling, it is discovered that Mayne has a wild side and on various occasions finds himself in trouble. His “go to” is to trash the hotel rooms of his teammates. The team includes some of the best players from around Ireland and Britain.

In 1939, with outbreak of World War II, Mayne joins the Supplementary Reserves in Newtownards and receives a commission in the Royal Artillery. He serves in several units in Ireland and England, generally with light and heavy anti-aircraft units. He volunteers for the No. 11 (Scottish) Commando unit which is sent to the Middle East. There he sees action during the Syria-Lebanon campaign. Specifically during the Battle of the Litani River, he draws attention from Captain David Stirling who is forming the new Special Air Service (SAS). Sterling recruits Mayne for the new SAS while he is in jail for striking his commanding officer.

From November 1941 to the end of 1942, Mayne is involved in several raids behind enemy lines with the SAS. He uses jeeps to go to various Axis bases and begin blowing up planes and fuel dumps. It is claimed that he personally destroyed 100 planes during these missions. In addition to serving in the Middle East, he serves as well in Sicily, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway and France. In most of these locations he works with the resistance behind the enemy lines. In France he helps to train the French Resistance.

By the end of the war, Mayne has been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and has also received the British Army’s Distinguished Service Order with three bars, which means he received the award four times. After the war he joins the British Antarctic Survey in the Falkland Islands. He returns home to Newtownards when back issues, which started while he was serving in the Middle East, become more difficult for him.

Mayne is initiated into Eklektikos Lodge No. 542 in Newtownards in 1945. He is a very enthusiastic mason and joins a second lodge in Newtownards, Friendship Lodge No. 447. On the evening of December 13, 1955, he attends a meeting of Friendship Lodge and then joins some of his masonic brothers at a local bar. At about 4:00 AM on December 14, he is found dead in his Riley RM roadster in Mill Street, Newtownards, having reportedly collided with a farmer’s vehicle.

At his funeral hundreds of mourners turn out to pay their respects and to see him interred in a family plot in the town’s old Movilla Abbey graveyard. After his death his masonic jewel is preserved for many years by an old school friend before it is presented to Newtownards Borough Council where it is displayed in the Mayoral Chamber of the Council Offices.


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Death of Winston Dugan, 1st Baron Dugan of Victoria

Winston Joseph Dugan, 1st Baron Dugan of Victoria and known as Sir Winston Dugan between 1934 and 1949, dies in Marylebone, London, England, on August 17, 1951. He is a British administrator and a career British Army officer. He serves as Governor of South Australia from 1934 to 1939, then Governor of Victoria until 1949.

Dugan is the son of Charles Winston Dugan, of Oxmantown Mall, Birr, County Offaly, an inspector of schools, and Esther Elizabeth Rogers. He attends Lurgan College in Craigavon from 1887 to 1889, and Wimbledon College, Wimbledon, London.

Dugan is a sergeant in the Royal Sussex Regiment, but transfers to the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment as a second lieutenant on January 24, 1900. He fights with the 2nd battalion of his regiment in the Second Boer War, and receives the Queen’s South Africa Medal with three clasps. Following the war he is appointed adjutant of his battalion on June 28, 1901, and is promoted to lieutenant on November 1, 1901. He later fights with distinction in World War I, where he is wounded and mentioned in despatches six times. He is awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in 1915 and appointed a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG) in 1918. In 1929 he is made a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) and the following year is promoted to major general. From 1931 to 1934 he commands the 56th (1st London) Division, Territorial Army.

In 1934, Dugan is appointed Governor of South Australia. He is appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG), retires from the Army and moves to Adelaide with his wife. They become an extremely popular and glamorous vice-regal couple. Sir Winston and Lady Dugan are both excellent public speakers and travel widely in order to bring problems to the attention of the ministers of the day. Upon the expiration of his term, there is bipartisan parliamentary support for him to serve a second term, but he has already accepted an appointment to be Governor of Victoria.

Sir Winston and Lady Dugan arrive in Melbourne on July 17, 1939. They continue their active role in community affairs, promoting unemployment reduction and making the ballroom of Government House available for the Australian Red Cross.

Dugan has an active role stabilising state politics during the tumultuous 1940s. Upon the disintegration of Albert Dunstan‘s Country Party in 1943, he installs Australian Labor Party leader John Cain as Premier. Four days later, Dunstan forms a coalition with the United Australia Party. Following the collapse of that ministry in 1945, Dugan dissolves parliament and calls a general election for November, which results in the balance of power being held by independents. Dugan commissions Cain to form the ministry of a minority government.

Dugan’s term as Governor is extended five times. He returns to England in February 1949. On July 7, 1949 he is raised to the peerage as Baron Dugan of Victoria, of Lurgan in County Armagh.

Winston Dugan dies at Marylebone, London, on August 17, 1951, at the age of 74. As there are no children from his marriage, the barony becomes extinct.


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Death of Father Willie Doyle

father-willie-doyleFather Willie Doyle, an Irish Jesuit priest, is killed in action on August 16, 1917, during the World War I.

Born William Joseph Gabriel Doyle in Dalkey, County Dublin, on March 3, 1873, Doyle is the youngest of seven children of Hugh and Christine Byrne Doyle. He is educated at Ratcliffe College, Leicester. After reading St. Alphonsus’ book Instructions and Consideration on the Religious State he is inspired to enter the priesthood and is ordained a Jesuit priest in 1907. He serves for five years on the mission staff.

Doyle serves in the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department of the British Army during World War I, appointed as a chaplain to 48 Brigade of the 16th Irish Division. During the Battle of Loos Doyle is caught in a German gas attack and for his conduct is mentioned in dispatches. A recommendation for a Military Cross is rejected as “he had not been long enough at the front.” Instead, Doyle is presented with the parchment of merit of the 49th Infantry Brigade (Irish). He is killed in the Battle of Langemarck, on August 16, 1917. Father Doyle’s body is never recovered but he is commemorated at Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium.

General William Bernard Hickie, the commander-in-chief of the 16th Irish Division, describes Doyle as “one of the bravest men who fought or served out here.” Doyle is awarded the Military Cross for his bravery during the assault on the village of Ginchy. He is recommended for a posthumous Victoria Cross and Distinguished Service Order but is awarded neither. Doyle is proposed for canonisation in 1938, but this is not followed through.

A stained glass window dedicated to his memory is present in St. Finnian’s Church, Dromin, County Louth.