seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Selton Hill Ambush

selton-hill-ambush-memorialThe Selton Hill Ambush takes place on March 11, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. An Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column is ambushed by members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Auxiliary Division at Selton Hill, County Leitrim. Six IRA officers of the Leitrim Brigade are killed.

Seán Connolly is an IRA activist from County Longford, but he is also used by IRA GHQ to organise the surrounding areas of County Roscommon and County Leitrim. When Michael Collins orders Connolly into the county, he warns that it is “the most treacherous county in Ireland.” As Connolly is running a training camp at Selton Hill in early 1921, his position is given to the RIC. The RIC District Inspector, Thomas Gore-Hickman, has been alerted to Connolly’s position by a local doctor who had served in the British Army. The doctor had reportedly been told of the training camp by a local member of the Orange Order.

The events at Selton Hill take place one week after the Sheemore ambush, in which British troops from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, based in Boyle suffer several casualties and at least one fatality. On March 11, at Selton Hill, a large force of RIC and Auxiliaires, based in Mohill and troops from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment surround and then attack the IRA camp. Six IRA volunteers are killed. The RIC suffers no losses. The IRA dead are Sean Connolly, Seamus Wrynne, Joseph O’Beirne, John Reilly, Joseph Reilly, and Capt. M.E. Baxter.

Ernie O’Malley later claims the volunteers’ bodies are “taken to Mohill by soldiers who shouted ‘fresh meat!’ as they were driving through the town.” He is also quoted as saying, “Men from the Bedfordshire Regiment were seen by a badly wounded IRA officer, Bernie Sweeney who survived, to use rifle butts on the skulls of two wounded men.” He also states that the location of the column was given to the local District Inspector of the RIC by a doctor who had been in the British Army, who received the information by a local Orangeman. The IRA officer who survives is Bernie Sweeney, from Ballinamore, who survives by hiding in a drain, where the cold water prevents him from bleeding to death. He is rescued and hidden from the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries by locals.

The IRA learn their position had been given away by the doctor and the Orangeman. The latter is later killed by the IRA. The doctor escapes to England and later dies in an accident.

The border country of the north midlands often proves to be a treacherous place for IRA training camps. On May 8, 1921 a camp of Belfast IRA volunteers based in the Lappanduff hills in neighbouring County Cavan, is also surprised. One volunteer is killed, thirteen captured, and arms and ammunition are seized by the British forces.

(Pictured: Selton Hill Ambush Memorial, south of the village of Fenagh, County Leitrim)

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Execution of Irish Republican Liam Mellows

liam-mellowsLiam Mellows, Irish republican and Sinn Féin politician, is executed by firing squad by Free State forces on December 8, 1922, in reprisal for the shooting of Teachta Dála (TD) Seán Hales.

Mellows is born at Hartshead Military Barracks, Ashton-Under-Lyne, Lancashire, England, to William Joseph Mellows, a British Army non-commissioned officer, and Sarah Jordan, of Inch, County Wexford. His family moves to 10 Annadale Avenue, Fairview, Dublin, in February 1895 when Sergeant Mellows is transferred there, however Liam remains in Wexford with his grandfather Patrick Jordan due to ill health. He attends the military school in Wellington Barracks in Cork and the Portobello garrison school in Dublin, but ultimately refuses a military career much to his father’s disappointment, instead working as a clerk in several Dublin firms, including the Junior Army & Navy Stores on D’Olier Street .

A nationalist from an early age, Mellows approaches Thomas Clarke, who recruits him to Fianna Éireann, an organisation of young republicans.

Mellows is introduced to socialism when he meets James Connolly at Countess Markiewicz’s residence, recuperating after his hunger strike. He is active in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and is a founder member of the Irish Volunteers , being brought onto its Organising Committee to strengthen the Fianna representation. He is arrested and jailed on several occasions under the Defence of the Realm Act. Eventually escaping from Reading Gaol, he returns to Ireland to command the “Western Division” of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Easter Rising of 1916.

Mellows leads roughly 700 Volunteers in abortive attacks on Royal Irish Constabulary
stations at Oranmore and Clarinbridge in County Galway and takes over the town of Athenry. However, his men are very badly armed and supplied and they disperse after a week, when British troops and the cruiser HMS Gloucester are sent west to attack them.

After this insurrection fails, Mellows escapes to the United States, where he is arrested and detained without trial in The Tombs in Lower Manhattan, New York, on a charge of attempting to aid the German side in World War I. After his release in 1918, he works with John Devoy and helps to organise Éamon de Valera’s fund raising visit to America in 1919–1920.

Mellows returns to Ireland to become Irish Republican Army “Director of Supplies” during the Irish War of Independence, responsible for buying arms. At the 1918 general election of December, he is elected to the First Dáil as a Sinn Féin candidate for both East Galway and for North Meath. He considers the Anglo-Irish Treaty as signed to be a betrayal of the Irish Republic. A conference of 9 TDs is deputed to meet privately on January 5, 1922 to resolve the dispute and to achieve a unified front by compromise. The four other anti-Treaty TDs say there is agreement but Mellows does not, and is seen thereafter by pro-Treaty TDs as one of their most implacable opponents. The following day the Dáil votes to approve the Treaty by a majority of 64 to 57.

Mellows is one of the more strident TDs on the approach to the Irish Civil War. In June 1922, he and fellow republicans Rory O’Connor, Joe McKelvey and Richard Barrett, among others, enters the Four Courts, which has been occupied by anti-Treaty forces since April. However, they are bombarded by pro-Treaty Free State forces and surrender after two days. Mellows has a chance to escape along with Ernie O’Malley, but does not take it. Imprisoned in Mountjoy Gaol, Mellows, O’Connor, McKelvey and Barrett are executed by firing squad on December 8, 1922, in reprisal for the shooting of TD Seán Hales. Mellows is buried in Castletown cemetery, County Wexford, a few miles from Arklow. An annual commemoration ceremony is held at his grave site, in which a wreath is laid by a member of the Liam Mellows Commemoration committee.

Mellows is commemorated by statues in Oranmore and Eyre Square in Galway, in the official name of the Irish Defence Forces army barracks at Renmore and in the naming of Mellows Bridge in Dublin. Mellows Avenue in Arklow is named in his honour. He is also commemorated in the names of two hurling clubs, one in Galway and one in Wexford, and by Unidare RFC in Ballymun and their “Liam Mellows Perpetual Cup.”


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Birth of Irish Republican Army Officer Liam Lynch

Liam Lynch, officer in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence and the commanding general of the Irish Republican Army during the Irish Civil War, is born in the townland of Barnagurraha, County Limerick, on November 9, 1893.

In 1910, at the age of 17, he starts an apprenticeship in O’Neill’s hardware trade in Mitchelstown, where he joins the Gaelic League and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Later he works at Barry’s Timber Merchants in Fermoy. In the aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising, he witnesses the shooting and arrest of David, Thomas and Richard Kent of Bawnard House by the Royal Irish Constabulary. After this, he determines to dedicate his life to Irish republicanism. In 1917 he is elected First Lieutenant of the Irish Volunteer Company, which resides in Fermoy.

In Cork in 1919, Lynch re-organises the Irish Volunteers, the paramilitary organisation that becomes the Irish Republican Army (IRA), becoming commandant of the Cork No. 2 Brigade of the IRA during the guerrilla Irish War of Independence. He is captured, along with the other officers of the Cork No. 2 Brigade, in a British raid on Cork City Hall in August 1920. He provides a false name and is released three days later. In September 1920, he and Ernie O’Malley command a force that takes the British Army barracks at Mallow. The arms in the barracks are seized and the building is partially burned. In April 1921, the IRA is re-organised into divisions based on regions. Lynch’s reputation is such that he is made commander of the 1st Southern Division.

The war formally ends with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty between the Irish negotiating team and the British government in December 1921. Lynch is opposed to the Treaty, on the ground that it disestablishes the Irish Republic proclaimed in 1916 in favour of Dominion status for Ireland within the British Empire. He becomes Chief of Staff of the IRA in March 1922, much of which is also against the Treaty.

Although Lynch opposes the seizure of the Four Courts in Dublin by a group of hardline republicans, he joins its garrison in June 1922 when it is attacked by the newly formed National Army. This marks the beginning of the Irish Civil War. The ‘Munster Republic’ falls in August 1922, when Free State troops land by sea in Cork and Kerry. The Anti-Treaty forces then disperse and pursue guerrilla tactics.

Lynch contributes to the growing bitterness of the war by issuing what are known as the “orders of frightfulness” against the Provisional government on November 30, 1922. This General Order sanctions the killing of Free State Teachta Dála (TDs) and Senators, as well as certain judges and newspaper editors in reprisal for the Free State’s killing of captured republicans. Lynch is heavily criticised by some republicans for his failure to co-ordinate their war effort and for letting the conflict peter out into inconclusive guerrilla warfare. Lynch makes unsuccessful efforts to import mountain artillery from Germany to turn the tide of the war.

In March 1923, the Anti-Treaty IRA Army Executive meets in a remote location in the Nire Valley. Several members of the executive propose ending the civil war. However, Lynch opposes them and narrowly carries a vote to continue the war.

On April 10, 1923, a National Army unit is seen approaching Lynch’s secret headquarters in the Knockmealdown Mountains. Lynch is carrying important papers that could not fall into enemy hands, so he and his six comrades begin a strategic retreat. To their surprise, they run into another unit of 50 soldiers approaching from the opposite side. Lynch is hit by rifle fire from the road at the foot of the hill. Knowing the value of the papers they carry, he orders his men to leave him behind.

When the soldiers finally reach Lynch, they initially believe him to be Éamon de Valera, but he informs them, “I am Liam Lynch, Chief-of-Staff of the Irish Republican Army. Get me a priest and doctor, I’m dying.” He is carried on an improvised stretcher manufactured from guns to “Nugents” pub in Newcastle, at the foot of the mountains. He is later brought to the hospital in Clonmel, and dies that evening. He is laid to rest two days later at Kilcrumper Cemetery, near Fermoy, County Cork.


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Irish Free State Suspends Executions

irish-free-state-executionsOn February 8, 1923, the Irish Free State suspends executions until February 18, offering an amnesty to anyone who surrenders before that date.

In the aftermath of the sudden death of Arthur Griffith and the killing of Michael Collins, in August 1922, William T. Cosgrave becomes chairman of the provisional government. Cosgrave and his colleagues remain wedded to a ruthless military and political strategy that ensures, by May 1923, a decisive win over the Republicans and the end of the Irish Civil War. Cosgrave’s analysis is that “the executions have had a remarkable effect. It is a sad thing to say, but it is nevertheless the case.” He could also be chilling in his resolve: “I am not going to hesitate and if the country is to live and if we have to exterminate 10,000 republicans, the 3 millions of our people are bigger than the ten thousand.”

The Free State suspends executions and offers an amnesty in the hope that anti-treaty fighters will surrender. However, the war drags for another two months and witnesses at least twenty more official executions.

Several Republican leaders narrowly avoid execution. Ernie O’Malley, captured on November 4, 1922, is not executed because he is too badly wounded when taken prisoner to face a court-martial and possibly because the Free State is hesitant about executing an undisputed hero of the recent struggle against the British. Liam Deasy, captured in January 1923, avoids execution by signing a surrender document calling on the anti-treaty forces to lay down their arms.

The Anti-Treaty side calls a ceasefire on April 30, 1923 and orders their men to “dump arms,” ending the war on May 24. Nevertheless, executions of Republican prisoners continue after this time. Four Irish Republican Army (IRA) men are executed in May after the ceasefire order and the final two executions take place on November 20, months after the end of hostilities. It is not until November 1924 that a general amnesty is offered for any acts committed in the civil war.

In highlighting the severity of the Free State’s execution policy, however, it is important not to exaggerate its extent. The Free State takes over 12,000 Republicans prisoner during the war, of whom roughly 80, less than 1%, are executed. How those who are executed are chosen from the others captured in arms is unclear, however many more men are sentenced to the death penalty than are actually shot. This is intended to act as a deterrent to anti-Treaty fighters in the field, who know that their imprisoned comrades are likely to be executed if they kept up their armed campaign.

Perhaps this realism is also beginning to affect the republican self-declared “men of faith.” Dan Breen, who leads an IRA column in Tipperary during the Civil war, tells his fellow republicans, “In order to win this war you’ll need to kill 3 out of every 5 people in the country and it isn’t worth it.”


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Anti-Treaty Forces Abandon The Four Courts

free-state-troops-fire-on-the-four-courtsAnti-Treaty forces abandon The Four Courts in Dublin on June 30, 1922, after two days of bombardment under the orders of Michael Collins.

The occupation of the Four Courts by Anti-Treaty forces in April 1922 makes real the threat of violence that has existed only as a subtext to the treaty debates. That real fighting does not break out until the subsequent decision by the Pro-Treaty forces to forcibly retake the position in June 1922 shows just how reluctant the parties are to engage in more violence.

However, once the decision to fight is made neither side show much restraint. The shelling of the Four Courts and the ferocity of the fighting around the rest of Dublin during the initial phase of the war shows that neither side will balk at killing former friends if that is what is required.

Tragically, on the morning of June 30, a massive explosion destroys the western wing of the Four Courts and the Irish Public Records Office which houses official documents, archives, and artifacts from almost 1,000 years of Irish history. The explosion is thought to have been caused by fires from the artillery bombardment setting off munitions stored there. Free State troops, however, claim that the building is mined.

After two days of heavy fighting that sees the complex more or less destroyed, the Anti-Treaty forces, at this point under the command of Ernie O’Malley after Paddy O’Brien is wounded by shrapnel, surrenders. Their surrender is at the order of the senior commander of Anti-Treaty forces in the city, Oscar Traynor, who sends word that he cannot break through to help them.

They march out of a burning and wrecked Four Courts a compelling symbol for the damage the Civil War is to bring to the young state over the upcoming months and years. Members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) Army Executive Liam Mellows, Rory O’Connor, Joe McKelvey, and Dick Barret are among the prisoners, but O’Malley himself escapes.


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Michael Collins Made President of the IRB

michael-collinsMichael Collins, who is also a leader in the Irish Republican Army, is made president of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) on June 28, 1919.

At the start of the 20th century, the IRB is a stagnating organisation, concerned more with Dublin municipal politics than the establishment of a republic. A younger generation of Ulster republicans aim to change this and, in 1905, Denis McCullough and Bulmer Hobson found the Dungannon Clubs, whose purpose is to discourage enlistment into the British Army and encourage enlistment into the IRB.

In 1909, Michael Collins is introduced to the brotherhood by Sam Maguire. By 1914, the Supreme Council is largely purged of its older, tired leadership, and is dominated by enthusiastic men such as Hobson, McCullough, Patrick McCartan, John MacBride, Seán Mac Diarmada, and Tom Clarke. The latter two are to become the primary instigators of the Easter Rising in 1916.

Following the Rising some republicans, notably Éamon de Valera and Cathal Brugha, leave the organization as they view it as no longer necessary since the Irish Volunteers now perform its function. The IRB, during the War of Independence (1919-1921), is under the control of Michael Collins, who initially is secretary and subsequently, on June 28, 1919, is made president of the Supreme Council.

When the Anglo-Irish Treaty is signed on December 6, 1921, it is debated by the Supreme Council, which votes to accept it by an 11-4 vote. Those who oppose the Treaty include former leader Harry Boland, Austin Stack, and Liam Lynch. Anti-Treaty republicans like Ernie O’Malley, who fought during the Civil War against the Treaty, see the IRB as being used to undermine the Irish Republic.

The IRB becomes quiescent during the Irish Civil War, which ends in May 1923, but it emerges again later that year as a faction within the National Army. It supports Minister for Defence Richard Mulcahy against the “Old IRA,” which fights against the recruitment of ex-British Army personnel and the demobilization of old IRA men. This comes to a head with the Army Mutiny of 1924, in the wake of which Mulcahy resigns and other IRB members of the army are dismissed by acting President of the Executive Council Kevin O’Higgins. The IRB subsequently dissolves itself, although it is not known whether a formal decision is made or it simply ceases to function.