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


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Birth of Dan Breen, IRA Volunteer & Fianna Fáil Politician

Irish republican Dan Breen (1967)Daniel “Dan” Breen, volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, is born in Grange, Donohill parish, County Tipperary, on August 11, 1894. In later years, he is a Fianna Fáil politician.

Breen’s father dies when he is six, leaving the family very poor. He is educated locally before becoming a plasterer and later a linesman on the Great Southern Railways.

Breen is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1912 and the Irish Volunteers in 1914. On January 21, 1919, the day the First Dáil meets in Dublin, Breen takes part in the Soloheadbeg Ambush. The ambush party of eight men, led by Seán Treacy, attacks two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men who are escorting explosives to a quarry. The two policemen, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell, are fatally shot during the incident. The ambush is considered to be the first incident of the Irish War of Independence.

During the conflict, the British put a £1,000 price on Breen’s head, which is later increased to £10,000. He quickly establishes himself as a leader within the Irish Republican Army. He is known for his courage. On May 13, 1919 he helps rescue his comrade Seán Hogan at gunpoint from a heavily guarded train at Knocklong station in County Limerick. Breen, who is wounded, remembers how the battalion is “vehemently denounced as a cold-blooded assassins” and roundly condemned by the Catholic Church. After the fight, Treacy, Séumas Robinson, and Breen meet Michael Collins in Dublin, where they are told to make themselves scarce although they do not necessarily agree.

Breen and Sean Treacy shoot their way out through a British military cordon in the northern suburb of Drumcondra (Fernside). They escape, only for Treacy to be killed the next day. Breen is shot at least four times, twice in the lung.

The British reaction is to make Tipperary a “Special Military Area,” with curfews and travel permits. Volunteer GHQ authorises entrerprising attacks on barracks. The British policy forces Breen and Treacy to retreat to Dublin. They join Michael Collins’ Squad of assassins, later known as the Dublin Guard, and Dublin becomes the centre of the war.

Breen is present in December 1919 at the ambush in Ashtown beside Phoenix Park in Dublin where Martin Savage is killed while trying to assassinate the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Viscount John French. The IRA hides behind hedges and a dungheap as the convoy of vehicles drives past. They have been instructed to ignore the first car but this contains their target, Lord French. Their roadblock fails as a policeman removes the horse and cart intended to stop the car.

Breen utterly rejects the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which makes him, like many others, angry and embittered. In the June 1922 elections Breen is nominated as a candidate by both the pro- and anti-Treaty sides, but is not elected.

Breen is elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election as a Republican anti-Treaty Teachta Dála (TD) for the Tipperary constituency. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Breen joins the Anti-Treaty IRA in the civil war, fighting against those of his former comrades in arms who support the Treaty. He is arrested by the National Army of the Irish Free State and interned at Limerick Prison. He spends two months there before going on hunger strike for six days followed by a thirst strike of six days, prompting his release.

Breen writes a best-selling account of his guerrilla days, My Fight for Irish Freedom, in 1924. He represents Tipperary from the fourth Dáil in 1923 as a Republican with Éamon de Valera and Frank Aiken. He is defeated in the June 1927 general election and travels to the United States where he opens a prohibition speakeasy. In 1932 he returns to Ireland and regains his seat as a member of Fianna Fáil in the Dáil at that year’s general election. During World War II he is said to hold largely pro-Axis views. He represents his Tipperary constituency without a break until his retirement at the 1965 election.

Breen dies in Dublin on December 27, 1969 and is buried in Donohill, near his birthplace. His funeral is the largest seen in west Tipperary since that of his close friend and comrade-in-arms Seán Treacy at Kilfeacle in October 1920. An estimated attendance of 10,000 mourners assemble in the tiny hamlet, giving ample testimony to the esteem in which he was held.

Breen is the subject of a 2007 biography Dan Breen and the IRA by Joe Ambrose.

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Birth of Alasdair Mac Cába, Revolutionary & Politician

alasdair-mac-cabaAlasdair Mac Cába, teacher, revolutionary, politician, and founder of the Educational Building Society, is born in Keash, County Sligo on June 5, 1886.

Mac Cába is educated at Keash national school and Summerhill College, Sligo. He wins a scholarship to St. Patrick’s College of Education, Drumcondra, Dublin, qualifying as a primary schoolteacher. He later obtains a diploma in education from University College Dublin (UCD) and is appointed principal of Drumnagranchy national school in County Sligo in 1907.

Mac Cába is elected as a Sinn Féin Member of Parliament (MP) for the constituency of Sligo South at the 1918 general election. In January 1919, Sinn Féin MPs refuse to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom and instead assemble at the Mansion House in Dublin as a revolutionary parliament called Dáil Éireann. Mac Cába, however, does not attend as he is in prison at the time.

At the 1921 Irish elections, Mac Cába was re-elected for Sligo–Mayo East. He supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty and votes in favour of it. He is again re-elected for Sligo–Mayo East at the 1922 general election, this time as pro-Treaty Sinn Féin Teachta Dála (TD). During the Treaty debate he asserts that the counties of Ulster which comprise “Northern Ireland” can never be incorporated into an Irish Republic while the British Empire is what it is.

At the 1923 general election, Mac Cába is elected as a Cumann na nGaedheal TD for Leitrim–Sligo. He resigns from Cumann na nGaedheal in 1924 because of dissatisfaction with government attitude to certain army officers and joins the National Party led by Joseph McGrath.

Mac Cába resigns his Dáil seat in March 1925 along with several other TDs, and at the resulting by-election on March 11, 1925 Cumann na nGaedheal candidate Martin Roddy wins his seat. He does not stand for public office again and returns to his post as a schoolteacher.

In the 1930s Mac Cába is involved with the short-lived but widely followed Irish Christian Front, serving as the organisation’s secretary and announcing its creation to the public on August 22, 1936. He is also member of the Blueshirts during this period and later the Irish Friends of Germany during World War II, a would-be Nazi Collaborator group in the event Germany invades Ireland. He chairs their meetings, denies the group is a fifth column and expresses the belief that a German victory would lead to a United Ireland. He is interned in 1940–1941 because of his pro-German sympathies, which he claims results from the desire to “see the very life-blood squeezed out of England.”

Mac Cába dies in Dublin on May 31, 1972, leaving his wife, son, and three daughters. There is a bronze bust of him in the headquarters of the Educational Building Society, Westmoreland Street, Dublin.


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Death of Writer John McGahern

john-mcgahernJohn McGahern, regarded as one of the most important Irish writers of the latter half of the twentieth century, dies in Dublin on March 30, 2006. Known for the detailed dissection of Irish life found in works such as The Barracks, The Dark and Amongst Women, The Observer hails him as “the greatest living Irish novelist” before his death and in its obituary The Guardian describes him as “arguably the most important Irish novelist since Samuel Beckett.”

Born in Knockanroe about half a mile from Ballinamore, County Leitrim, McGahern is the eldest child of seven. Raised alongside his six young siblings on a small farm in Knockanroe, his mother runs the farm (with some local help) while maintaining a job as a primary school teacher in the local school. His father, a Garda sergeant, lives in the Garda barracks at Cootehall in County Roscommon, a somewhat sizeable distant away from his family at the time. His mother subsequently dies of cancer in 1944, when the young McGahern is ten years old resulting in the unrooting of the McGahern children to their new home with their father in the aforementioned Garda barracks, Cootehall.

In the years following his mother’s death, McGahern completes his primary schooling in the local primary school, and ultimately wins a scholarship to the Presentation Brothers secondary school in Carrick-on-Shannon. Having traveled daily to complete his second level education, he continues to accumulate academic accolades by winning the county scholarship in his Leaving Certificate enabling him to continue his education to third level.

Following on from his second level success, McGahern is offered a place at St. Patrick’s College of Education in Drumcondra where he trains to be a teacher. Upon graduation from third level education, he begins his career as a primary schoolteacher at Scoil Eoin Báiste (Belgrove) primary school in Clontarf where, for a period, he teaches the eminent academic Declan Kiberd. He is dismissed from Scoil Eoin Báiste on the order of the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. He is first published by the London literary and arts review, X magazine, which publishes in 1961 an extract from his abandoned first novel, The End or Beginning of Love.

McGahern marries his first wife, Finnish-born Annikki Laaksi, in 1965 and in the same year publishes his second novel, The Dark, which is banned by the Censorship of Publications Board for its alleged pornographic content along with its implied sexual abuse by the protagonist’s father. Due to the controversy which is stirred by the book’s publication McGahern is dismissed from his teaching post and forced to move to England where he works in a variety of jobs before returning to Ireland to live and work on a small farm near Fenagh in County Leitrim.

John McGahern dies from cancer in the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin on March 30, 2006, at the age of 71. He is buried in St. Patrick’s Church, Aughawillan alongside his mother.


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Murders of James Murphy & Patrick Kennedy

william-lorraine-kingRepublican activists James Murphy and Patrick Kennedy are murdered in Dublin on February 9, 1921.

Murphy and Kennedy are arrested by Auxiliaries in Dublin and are in the custody of ‘F’ Company of the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary (ADRIC). Two hours later, constables of the Dublin Metropolitan Police find the two men lying shot, with pails on their heads, in Clonturk Park, Drumcondra. Kennedy is dead and Murphy is dying. Murphy dies in Mater Hospital, Dublin on February 11, but just before dying he testifies that Captain William Lorraine King, commanding officer of ‘F’ Company ADRIC, had taken them and stated that they were “just going for a drive.” King is arrested for the killings. King and two of his men, H. Hinchcliffe and F.J. Welsh are court-martialed on February 13-15 but are acquitted after Murphy’s dying declaration is ruled inadmissible, and two officers from ‘F’ Company provide perjured alibis for Captain King at the time of the shootings.

King is implicated and court-martialed for the deaths of Conor Clune, Peader Clancy, and Dick McKee, the latter two leading lights in the Dublin Irish Republican Army (IRA), the former a luckless Gaelic League member. All three are captured in Dublin on November 20, 1920, the day before Bloody Sunday. Clune is caught at Vaughn’s Hotel in Parnell Square, Dublin and the two IRA leaders at Lower Gloucester St., complete with British army officer uniforms and detonators. Sometime between then and the next day, as news no doubt filters in of the deaths of several British intelligence officers, the prisoners are killed in questionable circumstances in the Dublin Castle guard room. According to an official report from Dublin Castle, the prisoners attempt to grab rifles and hurl unfused grenades and are killed in that action. The guards of ‘F’ Company in the room at the time are cleared of wrongdoing by a court inquiry. A Major Reynolds of ‘F’ Company is said to pass details of the killers to Michael Collins. The Times notes that it seems as if the prisoners had been lined up and shot. In a later novel, Major Jocelyn Lee Hardy more or less confesses to the killing of one of the prisoners.

Ironically, Captain King is on Michael Collins list of British Intelligence officers to be executed on the morning of November 20, 1920. He is not in his room when the assassins arrive as he is interrogating the prisoners in Dublin Castle.

(Pictured: Major William Lorraine King, ‘F’ Company Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary)


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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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Oscar Traynor Leads Anti-Treaty IRA Occupation of O’Connell Street

On June 29, 1922 during the Irish Civil War, Oscar Traynor leads Anti-Treaty members of the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) 1st Dublin Brigade to occupy O’Connell Street in order to help the Four Courts garrison. His men also take up positions in York Street, South Circular Road, Capel Street, Parnell Square, and Dolphin’s Barn.

Traynor is an Irish politician and republican born into a strongly nationalist family in Dublin on March 21, 1886. He serves in a number of cabinet positions, most notably as the country’s longest-serving Minister for Defence. He is educated by the Christian Brothers in Dublin. In 1899 he is apprenticed to John Long, a famous wood-carver. As a young man he is a noted footballer and tours Europe as a goalkeeper with Belfast Celtic F.C. whom he plays with from 1910 to 1912.

Traynor joins the Irish Volunteers and takes part in the Easter Rising in 1916, following which he is interned in Wales. During the Irish War of Independence he is brigadier of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Republican Army. He leads the attack on The Custom House in 1921 and an ambush on the West Kent Regiment at Claude Road, Drumcondra on June 16, 1921 when the Thompson submachine gun is fired for the first time in action. When the Irish Civil War breaks out in June 1922, Traynor takes the republican side.

The Dublin Brigade is split however, with many of its members following Michael Collins in taking the pro-Treaty side. On June 29, 1922, Traynor and his supporters occupy O’Connell Street in an attempt to help the republicans who have occupied the Four Courts but are under attack by Free State forces. Traynor and his men hold out for a week of street fighting before making their escape. He organises guerilla activity in south Dublin and County Wicklow, before being captured by Free State troops in September. He is then imprisoned for the remainder of the war.

On March 11, 1925 Traynor is elected to Dáil Éireann in a by-election as a Sinn Féin Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin North constituency, though he does not take his seat due to the abstentionist policy of Sinn Féin. He is re-elected as one of eight members for Dublin North in the June 1927 general election but just one of six Sinn Féin TDs. Once again he does not take his seat. He does not contest the second general election called that year but declares his support for Fianna Fáil. He stands again in the 1932 general election and is elected as a Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin North.

In 1936 Traynor is first appointed to the Cabinet as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. In September 1939 he is appointed Minister for Defence and holds the portfolio until February 1948. In 1948 he becomes President of the Football Association of Ireland, a position he holds until his death. He serves as Minister for Defence in several Fianna Fáil governments and as Minister for Justice, where he is undermined by his junior minister, and later Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, before he retires in 1961.

Oscar Traynor dies on December 15, 1963, in Dublin at the age of seventy-seven. He has a road named in his memory on the Coolock to Santry stretch in North Dublin.

(Pictured: Oscar Traynor in Dublin in July 1922)


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Birth of Michael James O’Hehir, Commentator & Journalist

michael-james-ohehirMichael James O’Hehir, hurling, Gaelic football and horse racing commentator and journalist, is born on June 2, 1920, in Glasnevin, County Dublin. Between 1938 and 1985 his enthusiasm and a memorable turn of phrase endears him to many. He is credited with being the “Voice of the Gaelic Athletic Association.”

His father, Jim O’Hehir, is active in Gaelic games, having trained his native county to win the 1914 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship title in hurling. He subsequently trains the Leitrim football team that secures the Connacht Senior Football Championship title in 1927 and he also serves as an official with the Dublin Junior Board.

O’Hehir is educated at St. Patrick’s National School in Drumcondra before later attending the O’Connell School. He later studies electrical engineering at University College Dublin, however, he abandons his studies after just one year to pursue a full-time career in broadcasting.

At the age of eighteen O’Hehir writes to Radio Éireann asking to do a test commentary. He is accepted and is asked to do a five-minute microphone test for a National Football League game between Wexford and Louth. His microphone test impresses the director of broadcasting so much that he is invited to commentate on the entire second half of the match.

Two months later, in August 1938, O’Hehir makes his first broadcast – the All-Ireland football semi-final between Monaghan and Galway. The following year he covers his first hurling final – the famous “thunder and lightning final” between Cork and Kilkenny.

By the mid-1940s O’Hehir is recognised as one of Ireland’s leading sports broadcasters. In 1947 he faces his most challenging broadcast to date when he has to commentate on the All-Ireland Football Final from the Polo Grounds in New York City with over 1,000,000 people listening to the broadcast back in Ireland.

In 1944 O’Hehir joins the staff of Independent Newspapers as a sports sub-editor, before beginning a seventeen-year career as racing correspondent in 1947.

In 1961 Ireland’s first national television station, Telefís Éireann, is founded and O’Hehir is appointed head of sports programmes. In addition to his new role O’Hehir continues to keep up a hectic schedule of commentaries.

O’Hehir’s skills do not just confine him to sports broadcasting and, in November 1963, he faces his toughest broadcast. By coincidence he is on holidays with his wife Molly in New York City when U.S. President John F. Kennedy is assassinated. O’Hehir is asked by Telefís Éireann to provide the commentary for the funeral. The live five-hour broadcast proves a huge challenge for him, as he has had no association with political or current affairs broadcasting up to that point and lacks the resources available to more established television stations. O’Hehir’s commentary, however, wins widespread acclaim in Ireland and shows a different side of his nature.

In August 1985 O’Hehir is preparing to commentate on the All-Ireland hurling final between Offaly and Galway. It would be a special occasion as it would mark his 100th commentary on an All-Ireland final. Two weeks before the game he suffers a stroke which leaves him in a wheelchair and with some speaking difficulties. This denies him the chance to reach the century milestone. He hopes to return to broadcasting one day to complete his 100th final, however, this never happens.

In 1987, the centenary All-Ireland football final takes place Croke Park. The biggest cheer of the day is reserved for O’Hehir when he is pushed onto the field in a wheelchair by his son Peter. Nobody expects the standing ovation and the huge outpouring of emotion from the thousands of fans present and from O’Hehir himself.

Over the next few years O’Hehir withdraws from public life. He returns briefly in 1996 when his autobiography, My Life and Times, is published. Michael O’Hehir dies in Dublin on November 24, 1996.