seamus dubhghaill

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


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The 1921 Drumcondra Ambush

tolka-bridge-drumcondraAn encounter between eight young Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers and a large body of the Black and Tans takes place at Tolka Bridge in Drumcondra on January 21, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

On Friday, January 21, 1921, eight men from the 1st Battalion IRA, set out to stage an ambush at Binn’s Bridge on Lower Drumcondra Road. The plan is to attack a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) patrol which uses the road to travel from their base at Gormanston, County Meath, near Drogheda.

Led by Lieutenant Francis “Frank” Flood (19), Michael Francis ‘Mick’ Magee (24) Patrick Doyle (29), Thomas Bryan (24), Bernard ‘Bertie’ Ryan (21) and Dermott O’Sullivan (17) set off at 8:30 AM for Binn’s Bridge. They are to ambush RIC Auxiliaries (Black and Tans) travelling into Dublin from Gormanston. However, the Auxiliaries do not arrive. The witness statement of Harry Colley, former Adjutant, IRA Dublin Brigade 1920-21, says “they had actually been sent to carry out the ambush at Binn’s Bridge, but for some reason of their own, when they reached the position, moved up beyond Tolka Bridge, to Clonturk Park.” According to Dermott O’Sullivan, the only survivor, when it appears that the Black and Tans will not be coming their way, the party leaves the Binn’s Bridge site and heads to Tolka Bridge in Drumcondra.

However, the police receive a tip-off from Sergeant Singleton of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP). It is also said, that as the British army unit is approaching the bridge over the River Tolka in Drumcondra, they are warned by a man by the name Robert Pike from Tolka Cottages.

The ambushers commence an attack upon two lorries of RIC constables, who return fire until the vehicles are able to accelerate out of range. Then the Black and Tans arrive in motor lorries and an armored car at the rear of their position to cut off their escape. Some volunteers manage to dash across fields to safety but others are arrested as they attempted to seek refuge in houses in the vicinity. All of the prisoners are found in possession of revolvers and ammunition, and Frank Flood is also found to have a grenade in his pocket.

In an attempt to escape the Auxiliaries, Michael Magee and Séan Burke run across a field of garden allotments in Clonturk Park. The Auxiliaries shoot Magee, mortally wounding him in the legs and lower torso. Magee is captured but soon dies of his wounds.

So at the end of the day, of the eight men involved in the action at Drumcondra, two men, Burke and Dunne, escape the scene. The five remaining, Frank Flood, Thomas Bryan, Bernard Ryan, Patrick Doyle and Dermot O’Sullivan are captured and Magee dies of his wounds. The captives are tried by a court-martial that lasts two days. All of the accused are convicted of High Treason and sentenced to death.

On March 14, 1921, all of the men, save Dermot O’Sullivan, are hanged at Mountjoy Prison. Citing his age of only 17 years, the British commute O’Sullivan’s sentence to life in prison. He is released from Portland Gaol at the end of August 1921.

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Birth of Tom McBride, Ireland’s King of Country Music

tom-mcbrideTom McBride, Irish country, traditional, easy listening singer, guitarist, and saxophone player best known as Big Tom, is born in Castleblayney, County Monaghan on September 18, 1936. He is affectionally known as “Ireland’s king of country music.”

With a career spanning over five decades, McBride starts his career in 1966 as the frontman of the Irish showband Big Tom and The Mainliners. In 1980, suffering from a fear of flying, he undertakes a sea voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to record his Blue Wings album in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 2000, McBride undergoes a vocal cord nodule operation on his throat. On July 8, 2005, a plaque is erected by the local community in his home village of Castleblayney. In November 2006, he suffered a sudden heart attack at the age of 70, which puts doubt into whether he will ever tour again with his band.

On February 1, 2008, McBride begins a 12-date tour of Ireland after doctors give him the all clear. On March 24, he performs at Castlebar‘s TF Ballroom’s final farewell night but reportedly takes ill on stage during the performance.

On 25 May, McBride performs for the closure night of the Galtymore dance hall in Cricklewood, London. He is the headline act at London’s Irish Festival on July 27 and headlines the Claremorris Dance Festival weekend on November 23.

In July 2009, K-MAC Records announces more dates in Ireland for Big Tom and the Mainliners which commences in August. From August 14 to September 13, McBride runs a successful tour of Ireland with large attendances to venues. The highlight is the Glencarn Hotel in his hometown Castleblayney where the concert is packed to capacity. The tour ends in Ennis with fans travelling many miles to see McBride and the band. Two days after the end of the tour the band’s trombone player and vocalist Cyril McKevitt dies of a heart attack.

In 2010, McBride announces an extensive series of tour dates. From 2011 until his death in Drogheda, County Louth on April 17, 2018, McBride and his band continue to perform with sporadic appearances.

In June 2016, McBride becomes the inaugural artist to be inducted into the Irish Country Music Hall of Fame.


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The Irish Free State Takes Drogheda

millmount-droghedaA large Irish Free State force takes Drogheda, County Louth, on July 4, 1922, during the Irish Civil War. They defeat Anti-Treaty fighters who are based at Millmount Fort, a large fortified complex situated on a great mound on the south bank of the River Boyne.

Millmount has been fortified in historical times since the early 12th century when invading Normans built a mote and bailey on what was probably originally a neolithic passage grave similar to Newgrange. In Irish cosmology, it is often assumed to be the burial place of Amergin Glúingel, whose name indicates that in ancient Irish mythology he was regarded as the originator of the arts of song, poetry and music.

Hugh de Lacy, one of the Normans who comes to Ireland after Strongbow, builds the original fort circa 1172, having been granted the Kingdom of Meath by Henry II of England. Later a stone castle is built on the site. This castle forms part of the defences of the town during the Siege of Drogheda during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in 1649. The fort’s English defenders attempt to surrender to Parliamentarian troops under Oliver Cromwell but are massacred when they give themselves up on September 11, 1649. The complex is later called Richmond Barracks. Some of the present buildings, in the courtyard, are built circa 1714. After the unrest and rebellions of the 1790s and the Acts of Union 1800 the complex is re-fortified and the Martello tower is built.

The fort suffers considerable damage during the Irish Civil War. It is occupied by Anti-Treaty forces and on July 4, 1922, it becomes the target of shelling by the army of the Irish Free State. The Free State Forces under Michael Collins have been given extensive support by the British Army at the express wish of Winston Churchill who insists that the Republican Forces be crushed. Using the same British Army 18-pounder artillery piece which had shelled the Republican H.Q. in the Four Courts in Dublin some days earlier the Free State Forces bombard Millmount fort for several hours before the Republican garrison retreats. The famous Martello tower is all but destroyed during the shelling.

Today, after being restored in 2000, the complex houses the Millmount Museum which houses a wide variety of artifacts of local and national importance. The complex is Drogheda’s most dominant feature, clearly visible from all parts of the town. The Martello tower is affectionately known as “The Cup and Saucer” by locals. The whole fort is a national monument and has been designated as Drogheda’s Cultural Quarter.


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Birth of Irish Artist Nano Reid

nano-reid-crumphan-achillNano Reid, Irish landscape artist, figure painter and portraitist, is born in Drogheda, County Louth on March 1, 1900. An individual, expressionistic artist, Reid is acknowledged to be one of the finest Irish woman painters of twentieth-century visual art in Ireland. Her works are represented in many public collections throughout Ireland.

In 1920, Reid wins a scholarship to study fine art painting and drawing at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, now the National College of Art and Design, under Harry Clarke. At the time, she is, in the words of fellow student Hilda van Stockum, “a fierce redhead…uncompromising and looking for truth.” In 1925 she starts showing at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA), submitting a total of 42 canvases until the late 1960s.

In 1928, Reid goes to Paris and enrolls briefly at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, after which she spends a year in London studying fine art at the Central School of Arts and Crafts under Bernard Meninsky. She returns to Ireland in 1931 and once more begins exhibiting her landscape painting at the RHA.

In 1950, with Norah McGuinness, Reid represents Ireland at the Venice Biennale. This is followed by the Exhibition of Contemporary Irish Art in Aberystwyth, Wales (1953), and the Mostra Internazionale di Bianco e Nero in Lugano, Switzerland (1956), the Guggenheim International Award Exhibition in New York City (1960) and the Twelve Irish Painters show in New York City (1963). In 1974, the Arts Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland stage a major retrospective of Reid’s artworks.

Nano Reid dies in Drogheda in 1981. Retrospectives are held at Taylor Galleries in Dublin (1984), Droichead Arts Centre in Drogheda (1991), and at Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar, County Mayo (1999).

(Pictured: “Crumphan, Achill,” oil on canvas)


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Murder of IRA Paramilitary Eamon Collins

eamon-collinsEamon Collins, a Provisional Irish Republican Army paramilitary in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is beaten and stabbed to death near his home in Newry, County Down on January 27, 1999.

Collins grows up in a middle-class Irish family in Camlough, a small, staunchly Irish republican town in County Armagh. After completing his schooling, he works for a time in the Ministry of Defence in a clerical capacity in London before studying law at Queen’s University Belfast, where he becomes influenced by Marxist political ideology. He eventually drops out of university and, after working in a pub for a period, joins Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise Service, serving in Newry, and goes on to use this internal position within the administrative machinery of the British Government to support IRA operations against Crown Forces personnel.

Collins joins the Provisional IRA during the blanket protest by Long Kesh inmates in the late 1970s and he becomes involved in street demonstrations. He joins the South Down Brigade of the IRA, based around Newry, and is appointed its intelligence officer.

Collins becomes noted within IRA circles for his hard-line views on the continuance of armed campaign, and later joins its Internal Security Unit. Around this time he has a confrontation with Gerry Adams at the funeral of an IRA man killed in a failed bombing over how to deal with the funeral’s policing, where he accuses Adams a being a “Stick.”

Despite his militarist convictions at this time Collins finds the psychological strain caused by his involvement in the terrorist war increasingly difficult to address. His belief in the martial discipline of the IRA’s campaign is seriously undermined by the March 11, 1982 assassination of Norman Hanna, a 28-year-old Newry man, in front of his wife and young daughter. His uneasy state is further augmented by being arrested on two occasions under anti-terrorism laws, the second including a week of detention and intense interrogation.

Collins subsequently states that the strain of the interrogation merely exacerbates increasing doubts that he has already possessed about the moral justification of the IRA’s terrorist paramilitary campaign and his actions within it. These doubts are made worse by the organization’s senior leadership quietly deciding in the early 1980s that the war has failed and now slowly manoeuvering the movement away from a military campaign to allow its political wing, Sinn Féin, to pursue its purposes by another means in what would become the Northern Ireland peace process.

In 1987, after being charged with several counts of murder and attempted murder, Collins is acquitted as the statement in which he admits to involvement in these acts is ruled legally inadmissible by the court. On release from prison he spends several weeks being counter-interrogated by the IRA’s Internal Security Unit, after which he is exiled by the organization from Ulster, being warned that if he is found north of Drogheda after a certain date he will be executed.

After his exile Collins moves to Dublin and squats for a while in a deserted flat in the impoverished Ballymun area of the city. After several years in Dublin, he subsequently moves to Edinburgh, Scotland for a period, where he runs a youth centre.

In 1995 Collins returns to Newry, a district known for the militancy of its communal support of the IRA, with numerous IRA members in its midst. The IRA order exiling him from Ulster has not been lifted, but with a formal ceasefire from the organization and renunciations of violence by all the paramilitary organizations in the province, he deems it safe to move back in with his wife and children who had never left the town.

Rather than maintaining a low profile Collins decides to take a prominent role in the ongoing transition of Ulster’s post-war society, using his personal history as a platform in the media to analyze the adverse effects of terrorism. In May 1998 he gives evidence against leading republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy in a libel case Murphy has brought against The Sunday Times, over a 1985 article naming him as the IRA’s Northern Commander. Murphy denies IRA membership, but Collins takes the witness stand against him, and testifies that from personal experience he knew that Murphy had been a key military leader in the organization. Murphy subsequently loses the libel case and sustains substantial financial losses in consequence. Collins and his family receive numerous threats after the trial.

Collins is beaten and stabbed to death by one or more unidentified assailants early in the morning of January 27, 1999, while walking his dogs near the Barcroft Park Estate in Newry along a quiet stretch of country lane at Doran’s Hill. His body also bears marks of having been struck by a car moving at speed. The subsequent police investigation and Coroner’s Inquest comment upon the extremity of weaponed violence to Collins’ head and face used during the attack.

Rumoured reasons behind the murder are that he had returned to Ulster in breach of the IRA’s banning order, and further he had detailed IRA activities and publicly criticized in the media a multiplicity of Irish terrorist paramilitary splinter groups that had appeared after the IRA’s 1994 ceasefire, and that he had testified in court against Murphy.

After a traditional Irish wake, with a closed coffin necessitated by the condition of his face, and a funeral service at St. Catherine’s Church in Newry, Collins’ body is buried at the town’s Monkshill Cemetery, not far from the grave of Albert White, a Catholic former Royal Ulster Constabulary Inspector, whose assassination he had helped to organize in 1982.


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Death of Maurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond

fitzgerald-coat-of-armsMaurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond, Irish nobleman in the Peerage of Ireland, Captain of Desmond Castle in Kinsale, so-called ruler of Munster, and for a short time Lord Justice of Ireland, dies at Dublin Castle on January 25, 1356.

FitzGerald is the second son of Thomas FitzMaurice FitzGerald, 2nd Baron Desmond by his wife Margaret. His father dies in 1296 when he is still a child. He succeeds his elder brother Thomas FitzGerald, 3rd Baron Desmond as 4th Baron Desmond in 1307, and also inherits great wealth and large estates.

By 1326 FitzGerald’s influence is such that there are rumours of a conspiracy to make him King of Ireland. Modern historians tend to dismiss the story, on the ground that the alleged conspirators were other magnates who were more interested in increasing their own power than aggrandising FitzGerald.

FitzGerald is created Earl of Desmond by Letters Patent dated at Gloucester, England, August 27, 1329, by which patent also the county palatine of Kerry is confirmed to him and his heirs male, to hold of the Crown by the service of one knight’s fee. This is part of a Crown policy of attempting to win the support of the magnates by conferring earldoms on them.

In January 1330 FitzGerald is summoned by Sir John Darcy, Lord Justice of Ireland, to fight armed Irish rebels, with a promise of the King’s pay. It is FitzGerald who introduces the practice of Coigne and Livery, the quartering of troops on the inhabitants of the district they are sent to protect.

Accepting the King’s proposal, in addition to dealing with Munster and Leinster, FitzGerald routs the O’Nolans and O’Murroughs and burns their lands in County Wicklow and forces them to give hostages. He recovers the castle of Ley from the O’Dempsies, and has a liberate of £100 sterling dated at Drogheda August 24, 1335, in return for the expense he has incurred in bringing his men-at-arms, hobelars, and foot-soldiers, from various parts of Munster to Drogheda, and there, with Lord Justice Darcy, disperses the King’s enemies.

In 1331 there are further rumours of an attempt to make him King. Although there seems to be no foundation for them, the Crown takes them seriously enough to imprison FitzGerald for several months. He is released when a number of fellow nobles stand surety for his good behaviour.

In 1339 FitzGerald is engaged against Irish rebels in County Kerry where it is said he slays 1,400 men, and takes Nicholas, Lord of Kerry, prisoner, keeping him confined until he dies as punishment for siding with the rebels against the Crown.

The same year FitzGerald is present in the parliament held in Dublin. He is summoned by Writ dated at Westminster July 10, 1344, with Maurice, Earl of Kildare, and others, to attend the King at Portsmouth “on the octaves of the nativity of the Virgin Mary,” with twenty men-at-arms and fifty hobelars, at his own expense, to assist in the war against Philip V of France.

FitzGerald, who has long been acting “with a certain disregard for the niceties of the law” now decides on open rebellion. In 1345 he presides at an assembly of Anglo-Irish magnates at Callan, County Kilkenny, ignores a summons to attend the Irish Parliament and attacks Nenagh. He is a formidable opponent, and for the next two years his defeat is the main preoccupation of the Crown. He surrenders on a promise that his life will be spared. He is imprisoned and his lands forfeited. He is allowed to go under guard to England to answer the charges against him.

By no means for the last time, the Crown evidently decides that it can not govern Ireland without the magnates’ support. In 1348 FitzGerald is released, and pardoned in 1349. His loyalty does not seem to have been in question during the last years of his life.

In July 1355 FitzGerald is appointed Lord Justice of Ireland for life, dying, however, the following January in Dublin Castle. He is interred in the Church of the Friars-Preachers in Tralee.


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Death of Aeneas Coffey, Inventor & Distiller

Aeneas Coffey, Irish inventor and distiller, dies in England on November 26, 1852. He is born in Calais, France, to Irish parents in 1780. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and enters the excise service around 1799–1800 as a gauger. He marries Susanna Logie in 1808, and they have a son, also named Aeneas, who may have been their only child.

According to British customs and excise records, Coffey is a remarkable man with widespread interests and multiple talents who rises quickly through the excise service ranks. He is appointed sub-commissioner of Inland Excise and Taxes for the district of Drogheda in 1813. He is appointed Surveyor of Excise for Clonmel and Wicklow in 1815. In 1816 he is promoted to the same post at Cork. By 1818 he is Acting Inspector General of Excise for the whole of Ireland and within two years is promoted to Inspector General of Excise in Dublin.

Coffey is a strong, determined upholder of the law, but aware of its shortcomings. He survives many nasty skirmishes with illegal distillers and smugglers, particularly in County Donegal in Ulster and in the west of Ireland, where moonshining is most rife. On several occasions he proposes to the government simple, pragmatic solutions to rules and regulations which have hampered legal distillers. Not all of his ideas are accepted. Between 1820 and 1824 he submits reports and gives evidence to Parliamentary Commissions of Inquiry on many aspects of distilling, including formalising the different spellings of Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky. His 1822 report is solidly backed by the Irish distillers. He believes in making it viable to distill legally, and illegal distilling might largely disappear.

He assists the government in the drafting of the 1823 Excise Act which makes it easier to distill legally. It sanctions the distilling of whiskey in return for a licence fee of £10, and a set payment per gallon of proof spirit. It also provides for the appointment of a single Board of Excise, under Treasury control, for the whole of the United Kingdom, replacing the separate excise boards for England, Scotland and Ireland. The 1823 Excise Act also provides for not more than four assistant commissioners of excise to transact current business in Scotland and Ireland, under the control of the board in London. Coffey resigns from government excise service at his own request in 1824.

Between his Dublin education and his work as an excise officer, Coffey has ample opportunity to observe the design and workings of whiskey stills, as Ireland is the world’s leading producer of whiskey in the 19th century, and Dublin is at the center of that global industry. This is how Coffey becomes familiar with a design differing from the traditional copper pot alembic still commonly used in Ireland, the continuous, or column, still. First patented by a Cork County distillery in 1822, the column still remains a relatively inefficient piece of equipment, although it points the way towards a cheaper and more productive way to distill alcohol. It is that last point that captures Coffey’s imagination. He makes his own modifications to existing column still designs, so as to allow a greater portion of the vapors to re-circulate into the still instead of moving into the receiver with the spirit. The result is more efficient, producing a lighter spirit at higher alcohol content. Coffey patents his design in 1830, and it becomes the basis for every column still used ever since.

On his retirement from service, Coffey goes into the Irish distilling business. For a short time he runs the Dodder Bank Distillery, Dublin and Dock Distillery in Grand Canal Street, Dublin, before setting up on his own as Aeneas Coffey Whiskey Company in 1830. The development of the Coffey still makes distillation of his own whiskey much more economical.

Nothing is known of the final years and last resting place of Aeneas Coffey. His only son, also called Aeneas Coffey, emigrates to South Africa and manages a distillery. He marries but his wife dies childless. He returns to England and spends his final years near London.