seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Battle of Brunswick Street

*The Battle of Brunswick Street occurs in Dublin on March 14, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

British authorities hang six Irish Republican Army (IRA) Volunteers in Mountjoy Gaol for crimes of high treason and murder on the morning of March 14, 1921. The Volunteers, including Francis Xavier Flood, Thomas Bryan, Patrick Doyle, Bernard Ryan and Dermot O’Sullivan, had been captured in an ambush at Drumcondra two months earlier.

The gates of Mountjoy Gaol are opened at 8:25 AM and news of the executions is read out to the distraught relatives of the dead. As many as 40,000 people gather outside the prison and many mournfully say the Rosary for the executed men.

By evening, the streets clear rapidly as the British-imposed curfew comes into effect at 9:00 PM each night. During this period, the city is a fearful place, patrolled by regular British troops and the much-feared paramilitary police, the Auxiliary Division, as people scurry home and await IRA retaliation for the hangings, which is not long in coming.

That very evening, IRA captain Peadar O’Meara sends as many as thirty-four IRA men out to attack police or military targets. They are armed with the standard urban guerrilla arms of easily hidden handguns and grenades. One young Volunteer, Sean Dolan, throws a grenade at a police station on nearby Merrion Square, which bounces back before it explodes, blowing off his own leg.

At around 8:00 PM, with the curfew fast approaching, a company of Auxiliaries based in Dublin Castle is sent to the area to investigate the explosion. It consists of one Rolls Royce armoured car and two trucks holding about sixteen men. Apparently the Auxiliaries have some inside information as they head straight for the local IRA headquarters at 144 Great Brunswick Street, now Pearse Street. One later testifies in court that “I had been notified there were a certain number of gunmen there.”

The IRA is expecting the Auxiliaries. As soon as the Auxiliaries approach the building, fire is opened on them from three sides. What is described in newspapers as a “hail of fire” tears into the Auxiliaries’ vehicles. Five of the eight Auxiliaries in the first truck are hit in the opening fusillade, two of them fatally injured. The IRA fighters, however, are seriously outgunned. The Rolls Royce armoured car is impervious to small arms fire (except its tires, which are shot out) but mounts a Vickers heavy machine gun which sprays the surrounding houses with bullets. The uninjured Auxiliaries also clamber out of their trucks and return fire at the gun flashes from street corners and rooftops.

Civilian passersby fling themselves to the ground to avoid the bullets but four are hit, by which side it is impossible to tell. The British military court of inquiry into the incident finds that the civilians had been killed by persons unknown, if by the IRA then they were “murdered,” if hit by Auxiliaries the shootings were “accidental.”

The gunfire lasts only five minutes but in that time seven people, including the two Auxiliaries, are killed or fatally wounded and at least six more wounded. Three civilians lay dead on the street – Thomas Asquith is a 68-year-old caretaker, David Kelly is a prominent Sinn Féin member and head of the Sinn Féin bank, and Stephen Clarke, aged 22, is an ex-soldier and may have been the individual who tipped off the Auxiliaries about the whereabouts of the IRA meeting house. An internal IRA report notes that he is “under observation, as he was a tout for the enemy.” The wounded are spirited away by sympathetic fire brigade members and members of Cumann na mBan and treated at nearby Mercer’s Hospital.

Two IRA men are captured as they flee the scene. Thomas Traynor, a 40-year-old veteran of the Easter Rising, is carrying an automatic pistol, but claims to have had no part in the ambush itself. He had, he maintains, simply been asked to bring in the weapon to 144 Great Brunswick Street. The other is Joseph Donnelly a youth of just 17 years of age.

As most of the IRA fighters get away through houses, over walls and into backstreets, the Auxiliaries ransack St. Andrew’s Catholic Hall at 144 Great Brunswick Street but find little of value. Regular British Army troops quickly arrive from nearby Beggars Bush Barracks and cordon off the area, but no further arrests are made. Desultory sniping carries on in the city for several hours into the night.


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Death of Republican Activist James Murphy

black-and-tans-and-auxies-dublin-ireland-1921Republican activist James Murphy dies in Mater Hospital, Dublin on February 11, 1921. Before he dies, he declares that he and Patrick Kennedy had been shot by their Auxiliary captors. A court of inquiry is held, and Captain W. L. King, commanding officer of F Company Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary (ADRIC), is arrested for the killings.

James Murphy and Patrick Kennedy are arrested by Auxiliaries in Dublin on February 9 and are taken into the custody of ‘F’ company. 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 fatally wounded. He dies in Mater Hospital, Dublin two days later.

Just before dying Murphy testifies that King 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, Hinchcliffe and 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 King at the time of the shootings.

King is implicated and court-martialed for the deaths of Conor Clune, Peadar Clancy, and Dick McKee, the latter two leading lights in the Dublin Irish Republican Army, the former a luckless Gaelic League member, who are all 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 Street, complete with British Army officer uniforms and detonators.

Sometime between then and the next day, in the Dublin Castle guard-room, as news filters in of the deaths of several British intelligence officers, the prisoners are killed in questionable circumstances. According to an official report from Dublin Castle, they attempted 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 have passed 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, a Captain Hardy more or less confesses to the killing of one of the prisoners.

Ironically, Captain King is on Michael Collins’s 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 but rather he is interrogating the prisoners in Dublin Castle.

(Pictured: Mixed gunmen of the Royal Irish Constabulary’s Auxiliary Division and Black and Tans contingents, Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland)


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Birth of Playwright Thomas Cornelius Murray

thomas-cornelius-murrayThomas Cornelius Murray, Irish dramatist who is closely associated with the Abbey Theatre, is born in Macroom, County Cork on January 17, 1873.

Murray is educated at St. Patrick’s Teacher Training College in Drumcondra, Dublin. He works as a schoolteacher and in 1900 is appointed headmaster of the national school in Rathduff, County Cork. His first play, The Wheel of Fortune, is produced in 1909 by the Little Theatre in Cork, a theatre he had co-founded with Daniel Corkery, Con O’Leary and Terence MacSwiney. The play is revised and renamed Sovereign Love in 1913. In 1915, he moves to Dublin as headmaster of the Model Schools at Inchicore, where he remains until his retirement from teaching in 1932.

Murray’s play Birthright is performed in the Abbey Theatre in 1910 and establishes him as a writer of force. In all, he writes fifteen plays, all of which are produced by the Abbey. His two most highly regarded works are Maurice Harte (1912) and Autumn Fire (1924). Both of these and Birthright are performed in New York City on Broadway, with Autumn Fire having a run of 71 performances. He also writes an autobiographical novel Spring Horizon (1937).

It has been stated both by A. DeGiacomo and by R. Allen Cave that, in the Art competitions at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, France, Murray is awarded a bronze medal for his play Birthright. However, according to the official record for the games, although Murray is a participant in the literature category with this play and also with Maurice Harte, he does not win a medal.

T. C. Murray dies in Dublin on March 7, 1959.


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Birth of James Dillon, Fine Gael Leader

james-dillonJames Matthew Dillon, politician and Fine Gael leader, is born in Drumcondra, Dublin on September 26, 1902. He serves as Leader of the Opposition and Leader of Fine Gael from 1959 to 1965 and Minister for Agriculture from 1948 to 1951 and from 1954 to 1957. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1932 to 1969.

Dillon is the son of John Dillon, the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, which had been swept away by Sinn Féin at the 1918 general election. He is educated at Mount St. Benedict’s, in Gorey, County Wexford, University College Galway and King’s Inns. He qualifies as a barrister and is called to the Bar in 1931. He studies business methods at Selfridges in London. After some time at Marshall Field’s in Chicago he returns to Ireland where he becomes manager of the family business known as Monica Duff’s in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon.

Between 1932 and 1937 Dillon serves as Teachta Dála (TD) for the Donegal constituency for the National Centre Party and after its merger with Cumann na nGaedheal, for the new party of Fine Gael. He plays a key role in instigating the creation of Fine Gael and becomes a key member of the party in later years. He remains as TD for Monaghan from 1937 to 1969. He becomes deputy leader of Fine Gael under W. T. Cosgrave.

Dillon resigns from Fine Gael in 1942 over its stance on Irish neutrality during World War II. While Fine Gael supports the government’s decision to stay out of the war, he urges the government to side with the Allies. He is a rabid anti-Nazi, proclaiming the Nazi ideology is “the devil himself with twentieth-century efficiency.” His zealousness against the Nazis draws him the ire of the German minister to Ireland, Eduard Hempel, who denounces him as a “Jew” and “German-hater.”

Dillon has a personally eventful 1942. While holidaying in Carna, County Galway he meets Maura Phelan of Clonmel on a Friday. By that Monday the two are engaged and six weeks after that they are married.

Dillon is one of the independents who supports the first inter-party government (1948–1951), and is appointed Minister for Agriculture. As Minister, he is responsible for huge improvements in Irish agriculture. Money is spent on land reclamation projects in the areas of less fertile land while the overall quality of Irish agricultural produce increases.

Dillon rejoins Fine Gael in 1953. He becomes Minister for Agriculture again in the second inter-party government (1954–1957). In 1959 he becomes leader of Fine Gael, succeeding Richard Mulcahy. He becomes president of the party in 1960. In 1965 Fine Gael loses the general election to Seán Lemass and Fianna Fáil. The non-Fianna Fáil parties win 69 seats to Fianna Fáil’s 72. Had the other parties been able to win four more seats between them, they would have been able to form a government. Having narrowly failed to become Taoiseach, Dillon stands down as Fine Gael leader after the election.

Dillon is a colourful contributor to Dáil proceedings and is noted for his high standard of oratory. He remains a TD until 1969, when he retires from politics. He died in Malahide, Dublin on February 10, 1986 at the age of 83.


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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.