seamus dubhghaill

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


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Assassination of Senator Billy Fox

senator-billy-foxBilly Fox, Protestant Irish politician and a Fine Gael member of Dáil Éireann from 1969 to 1973, and of Seanad Éireann from 1973 until his death, is assassinated on March 12, 1974 by Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen who are carrying out a raid on his girlfriend’s farmhouse. Five members of the Provisional IRA are convicted of involvement in his murder.

Late on the night of Monday, March 11, 1974, about a dozen gunmen arrive at the home of Fox’s girlfriend, Marjorie Coulson. She lives there with her parents and brother, and Fox regularly visits on Monday evenings. The farmhouse is in the rural townland of Tircooney in County Monaghan, near the border with Northern Ireland. The gunmen search the farmhouse and demand the occupants hand over weapons. Shortly after midnight, as this is taking place, Fox drives down the laneway and is stopped by some of the gunmen who are outside. He runs, but is shot and killed by a single gunshot through the upper torso. The gunmen then order everyone out of the house, set it on fire, and escape.

The next day, the Ulster Freedom Fighters claim that it had killed Fox because he had links to the Provisional IRA. The IRA issues a statement saying that it is not involved. However, shortly after the shooting, five men from County Monaghan are charged with Fox’s murder and IRA membership. They are convicted in May 1974 and sentenced to penal servitude for life. One of those convicted tells the court they had raided the farm because they received a tip-off that Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) weapons were being stored there. He says there was an agreement that no shots were to be fired. His understanding is that Fox had taken some of the men by surprise and they had shot to wound, not recognizing him.

It is reported that the tip-off had come from another local family and was the result of a grudge. IRA members are already suspicious that the UVF is receiving local help, following an incident in November 1973. Loyalist gunmen had bombed a house at nearby Legnakelly and shot one of the occupants, a republican activist. In its statement on Fox’s killing, the IRA says, “We have repeatedly drawn attention to the murderous acts of a group of former B Specials from County Fermanagh…led by serving officers of the British Army.” The author, Tim Pat Coogan, however, suggests that members of the Official IRA are responsible for killing Fox.

The Seanad adjourns for a week as a mark of respect. About 500 people attend Fox’s funeral at Aughnamullen, including Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and the Irish president, Erskine Childers. Fox is the first member of the Oireachtas to be killed since Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins by the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army in 1927. When John Bruton first becomes a Teachta Dála (TD) in 1969 he shares an office with Fox. He says that he is still angry at the murder. The RTÉ documentary Rumours from Monaghan report in detail on the circumstances of Fox’s killing. Because Fox is a Protestant, some suggest that the motive for the killing was sectarian.

One of those convicted for Fox’s killing, Sean Kinsella, later escapes from Portlaoise Prison. He is later convicted of arms offences and attempted murder in England. He is released by the Irish government under the Good Friday Agreement.

The Senator Billy Fox Memorial Park in Aughnamullen is named in his memory.

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Execution of Robert Erskine Childers

During the Irish Civil War, British writer and Irish republican Robert Erskine Childers is executed by the Irish Free State government at the Beggars Bush Barracks in Dublin on November 24, 1922.

The London-born son of a British scholar and an Irish mother, Childers is a lifelong Protestant, itself an anomaly since Irish nationalism maps strongly to Catholicism. In his early years his loyalty was with the British Empire. In his twenties, Childers volunteers for the Second Boer War, and he later says the rank savagery and underlying injustice of England’s war “changed the whole current of my life and made me a Liberal and a Nationalist.”

Laying down the sword, Childers takes up the pen and writes several books of military history. He also writes a novel, The Riddle of the Sands, that has a claim of being the first spy novel. The Riddle of the Sands has never gone out of print since it was published in 1903.

Both in fiction and nonfiction, Childers’ warnings against the German challenge to British hegemony are prophetic, but he is himself becoming a man divided. In 1914 he runs German guns to Irish nationalists aboard his yacht Asgard and then signs up for the royal navy when World War I erupts. The British crackdown on the Easter Rising during the war completes his radicalization. He moves to Dublin and turns his eloquence against the British.

Childers is swept into the tragedy of the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War that follows. Although both he and Michael Collins are in the delegation that produces the contentious Anglo-Irish Treaty, Childers breaks with Collins over it and backs the Irish Republican Army (IRA) nationalists who fight the Irish Free State.

After Collins’s assassination, emergency laws promulgate the death sentence for anyone caught armed without authorization. Childers is a writer, not a partisan, but he is arrested in early November with a small sidearm, a gift Collins had given him back when they were on the same side. It is a time of bloody justice and they throw the book at him.

Childers knows as well as Collins had that the internecine conflict would have to end. He faces his execution with awe-inspiring forgiveness. Summoning his 16-year-old son to prison the night before his execution, Childers extracts a promise from the boy that he will find everyone who signed his death warrant and shake their hands. This son, young Erskine Hamilton Childers, eventually becomes President of Ireland.

Childers himself likewise shakes the hands of his own firing squad, one by one. His last words, reported in a number of slightly different variations, are lightheartedly addressed to them: “Take a step or two forwards, lads. It will be easier that way.”


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Death of Erskine Hamilton Childers, 4th President of Ireland

Erskine Hamilton Childers, Fianna Fáil politician who serves as the 4th President of Ireland, dies on November 17, 1974. He also serves as Tánaiste and Minister for Health from 1969 to 1973, Minister for Transport and Power from 1959 to 1969, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs from 1951 to 1954 and 1966 to 1969. He served as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1938 to 1973.

Childers is born on December 11, 1905, in the Embankment Gardens, London, to a Protestant family originally from Glendalough, County Wicklow. He is educated at Gresham’s School, Holt, and the University of Cambridge. In 1922, when Childers is sixteen, his father, Robert Erskine Childers, is executed by the new Irish Free State on politically inspired charges of gun-possession. After attending his father’s funeral, Childers returns to Gresham’s, then two years later he goes on to Trinity College, Cambridge.

After finishing his education, Childers works for a period in a tourism board in Paris. In 1931, Éamon de Valera invites him to work for his recently founded newspaper, The Irish Press, where Childers becomes advertising manager. He becomes a naturalised Irish citizen in 1938. That same year, he is first elected as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) for Athlone–Longford. He remains in the Dáil Éireann until 1973, when he resigns to become President.

Childers joins the cabinet in 1951 as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in the de Valera government. He then serves as Minister for Lands in de Valera’s 1957–59 cabinet, as Minister for Transport and Power under Seán Lemass, and, successively, as Transport Minister, Posts and Telegraphs Minister, and Health Minister under Jack Lynch. He becomes Tánaiste in 1969.

Fine Gael TD Tom O’Higgins, who had almost won the 1966 presidential election, is widely expected to win the 1973 election when he is again the Fine Gael nominee. Childers is nominated by Fianna Fáil at the behest of de Valera, who pressures Jack Lynch in the selection of the presidential candidate. He is a controversial nominee, owing not only to his British birth and upbringing but to his Protestantism. However, on the campaign trail his personal popularity proves enormous, and in a political upset, Childers is elected the fourth President of Ireland on May 30, 1973, defeating O’Higgins by 635,867 votes to 578,771.

Childers quickly gains a reputation as a vibrant, extremely hard-working president, and becomes highly popular and respected. However, he has a strained relationship with the incumbent government, led by Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave of Fine Gael. Childers had campaigned on a platform of making the presidency more open and hands-on, which Cosgrave views as a threat to his own agenda as head of government. Childers considers resigning from the presidency, but is convinced to remain by Cosgrave’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Garret FitzGerald.

Though frustrated about the lack of power he has in the office, Childers’ daughter Nessa believes that he plays an important behind-the-scenes role in easing the Northern Ireland conflict, reporting that former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Terence O’Neill meets secretly with her father at Áras an Uachtaráin on at least one occasion.

Prevented from transforming the presidency as he desired, Childers instead throws his energy into a busy schedule of official visits and speeches, which is physically taxing. On November 17, 1974, just after making a speech to the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in Dublin, Childers suffers a heart attack. He dies the same day at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.

Childers’s state funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin is attended by world leaders including the Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (representing Queen Elizabeth II), the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Opposition, and presidents and crowned heads of state from Europe and beyond. He is buried in the grounds of the Church of Ireland Derralossary church in Roundwood, County Wicklow.


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Birth of Robert Erskine Childers, Writer & Fenian

Robert Erskine Childers, British writer universally known as Erskine Childers and whose mother is from County Clare, is born on June 25, 1870 in Mayfair, London, England. His works include the influential novel The Riddle of the Sands. He is the second son of Robert Caesar Childers, a translator and oriental scholar from an ecclesiastical family, and Anna Mary Henrietta, née Barton, from an Anglo-Irish landowning family of Glendalough House, Annamoe, County Wicklow. He is also the cousin of Hugh Childers and Robert Barton, and the father of the fourth President of Ireland, Erskine Hamilton Childers.

Childers is raised at the home of family members at Glendalough, County Wicklow. At the recommendation of his grandfather, Canon Charles Childers, he is sent to Haileybury College. There he wins an exhibition to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studies the classical tripos and then law. He distinguishes himself as the editor of Cambridge Review, the university magazine.

Childers’s first published work is some light detective stories he contributes to the Cambridge Review while he is editor. His first book is In the Ranks of the C. I. V., an account of his experiences in the Boer War, but he writes it without any thought of publication.

After serving in the British army during the Boer War he becomes an Irish nationalist. In 1914, Childers smuggles a cargo of 900 Mauser Model 1871 rifles and 29,000 black powder cartridges to the Irish Volunteers movement at the fishing village of Howth, County Dublin on his yacht, Asgard.

Though he serves as the principal secretary to Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith at the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations, Childers opposes the treaty, supporting the anti-treaty forces during the Irish Civil War. Childers is captured with a pistol by Free Staters in November 1922 shortly after the Free State has passed legislation making such possession a capital offence. Ironically, the revolver Childers possesses is a gift from former comrade Michael Collins, who led the Free State until his death in an ambush three months earlier.

Childers is put on trial by a military court on the charge of possessing a small Spanish-made Gaztanaga Destroyer .32 calibre semi-automatic pistol on his person in violation of the Emergency Powers Resolution. Childers is convicted by the military court and sentenced to death on November 20, 1922.

While his appeal against the sentence is still pending, Childers is executed on November 24, 1922 by firing squad at the Beggar’s Bush Barracks in Dublin. Before his execution he shakes hands with each member of the firing squad. He also obtains a promise from his then 16-year-old son, the future President Erskine Hamilton Childers, to seek out and shake the hand of every man who has signed his death sentence. His final words, spoken to the firing squad, are, “Take a step or two forward, lads, it will be easier that way.”

Robert Erskine Childers is buried at Beggar’s Bush Barracks until 1923, when his body is exhumed and reburied in the republican plot at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


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Erskine Childers Elected Fourth President of Ireland

In a political upset, Erskine Hamilton Childers defeats Tom O’Higgins by a very narrow margin and is elected as the fourth President of Ireland on May 30, 1973.

Incumbent president Éamon de Valera is 90 years old and constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. His party, Fianna Fáil, seeks to get former Tánaiste Frank Aiken to run for the presidency, but he declines. Under pressure, former Tánaiste Erskine H. Childers agrees to run. The odds-on favourite is Fine Gael deputy leader, Tom O’Higgins, who had come within 1% of defeating Éamon de Valera in the 1966 presidential election.

Childers is a controversial nominee, owing not only to his British birth and upbringing but to his Protestantism. However, on the campaign trail his personal popularity proves enormous. In a political upset, Erskine H. Childers wins the presidency by 635,867 votes to 578,771.

Childers, though 67, quickly gains a reputation as a vibrant, extremely hard-working president, and becomes highly popular and respected. However, he has a strained relationship with the incumbent government, led by Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave of Fine Gael. Childers has campaigned on a platform of making the presidency more open and hands-on, which Cosgrave views as a threat to his own agenda as head of government. He refuses to co-operate with Childers’ first priority upon taking office, the establishment of a think tank within Áras an Uachtaráin to plan the country’s future. Childers considers resigning from the presidency, but is convinced to remain by Cosgrave’s Foreign Minister, Garret FitzGerald. However, Childers remains detached from the government. Whereas previously, presidents had been briefed by taoisigh once a month, Cosgrave briefs President Childers and his successor, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, on average once every six months.

Though frustrated about the lack of power he has in the office, Childers plays an important behind-the-scenes role in easing the Northern Ireland conflict as former Northern Ireland Prime Minister Terence O’Neill meets secretly with Childers at Áras an Uachtaráin on at least one occasion.

Prevented from transforming the presidency as he desires, Childers instead throws his energy into a busy schedule of official visits and speeches, which is physically taxing. On November 17, 1974, just after making a speech to the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin, Childers suffers a heart attack. He dies the same day at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.

Childers’s state funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, is attended by world leaders including the Earl Mountbatten of Burma (representing Queen Elizabeth II), the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Opposition, and presidents and crowned heads of state from Europe and beyond. He is buried in the grounds of the Church of Ireland Derralossary church in Roundwood, County Wicklow.