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


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Birth of Joseph McGarrity, Irish American Political Activist

Joseph McGarrity, Irish American political activist best known for his leadership in Clan na Gael in the United States and his support of Irish republicanism back in Ireland, is born on March 28, 1874 in Carrickmore, County Tyrone.

McGarrity’s family grows up in poverty, motivating his need to immigrate later in life. He grows up hearing his father discussing Irish politics, including topics such as the Fenians, the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), and Irish Home Rule. By the time he is an adult, he has developed a keen interest in politics himself.

McGarrity immigrates to the United States in 1892 at the age of 18. He is reputed to have walked to Dublin before boarding a cattle boat to Liverpool disguised as a drover, and then sailing to the United States using a ticket belonging to someone else. He settles in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and becomes successful in the liquor business. His business fails, however, on three occasions, twice due to embezzlement by his business partner.

In 1893 McGarrity joins Clan na Gael, an Irish organisation based in the United States committed to aiding the establishment of an independent Irish state. Clan na Gael had been heavily involved with the Fenian Brotherhood that McGarrity had grown up hearing about, and by the latter half of the 19th century had become a sister organisation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). In the decade just before McGarrity joins, Clan na Gael and the Fenian movement had waged the Fenian dynamite campaign, where they attempted to force the British state to make concessions on Ireland by bombing British Infrastructure. However, this had caused a split within Clan na Gael that is not mended until seven years after McGarrity joins when, in 1900, the factions reunite and plead to support “the complete independence of the Irish people, and the establishment of an Irish republic.” In the years that follow the 1880s and 1890s, he is, amongst others, credited with helping to stitch the organisation back together and bring it renewed strength.

McGarrity helps sponsor several Irish Race Conventions and founds and runs a newspaper called The Irish Press from 1918-22 that supports the Irish War of Independence. He is the founder of the Philadelphia chapter of Clan Na Gael.

During World War I, while the United States is still neutral, McGarrity is involved in the Hindu–German Conspiracy. He arranges the Annie Larsen arms purchase and shipment from New York to San Diego for India.

When Éamon de Valera arrives in the United States in 1919 they strike up an immediate rapport and McGarrity manages de Valera’s tour of the country. He persuades de Valera of the benefits of supporting him and the Philadelphia branch against the New York branch of the Friends of Irish Freedom organisation led by John Devoy and Judge Daniel F. Cohalan. He becomes president of the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic. He christens his newborn son Éamon de Valera McGarrity, although their relationship becomes strained upon de Valera’s entry back into Dáil Éireann in the Irish Free State.

McGarrity opposes the Anglo-Irish Treaty and travels to Dublin in 1922 and assists the development of the short-lived Collins/De Valera Pact by bringing de Valera and Michael Collins together before the 1922 Irish general election.

The Irish Civil War sees a split in Clan na Gael just as it had split Sinn Féin back in Ireland. McGarrity and a minority of Clan na Gael members support the anti-treaty side but a majority support the pro-treaty side, including John Devoy and Daniel Cohalan. Furthermore, in October 1920 Harry Boland informs the Clan na Gael leadership that the IRB will be cutting their ties to the Clan unless the IRB is given more influence over their affairs. Devoy and Cohalan resist this but McGarrity sees the Clan’s connection with the IRB as vital. While McGarrity’s faction is initially labelled “Reorganised Clan na Gael,” they are able to inherit total control of the Clan na Gael name as Devoy is not able to keep effective organisation of the group. In general, however, the in-fighting amongst the Irish on both sides of the Atlantic is quite disheartening for Irish Americans and in the years to come neither pro or anti-treaty sides of Clan na Gael see much in the way of donations.

With the scope of Clan na Gael now narrowed, and Devoy and Cohalan removed from the picture, McGarrity becomes chairman of the organisation. He does not support the founding of Fianna Fáil in 1926 and opposes the party’s entry into the Dáil in 1927. Even after the Irish Civil War, he still supports the idea that a 32-county Irish Republic can be achieved through force. in the spring of 1926, he receives Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army Andrew Cooney to the United States. Cooney and Clan na Gael formally agree that each organisation will support the other and that Clan na Gael will raise funds, purchase weapons and build support for the IRA in the United States.

Going into the late 1920s though Clan na Gael, as are most Irish American organisations, is struggling. Having limped past the split caused by the Irish Civil War, the rejection of Fianna Fáil has caused a second split in the membership. Many Irish Americans see the IRA and Fianna Fáil as one and the same at that point and Clan na Gael and McGarrity’s hostility to them causes much friction.

By July 1929, the Clan’s membership in one of its strongholds, New York City, is down to just 620 paid members. Then in October of that same year Wall Street crashes and the Great Depression hits. In 1933 McGarrity is left almost bankrupt after he is found guilty of “false bookkeeping entries.” His livelihood is saved when he becomes one of the main ticket agents in the United States for the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake. He is a personal friend of Joseph McGrath, one of the founders of the Sweepstake. The sweepstakes allow him to turn his fortunes around.

Despite the trying times of both Clan na Gael and his personal life, McGarrity holds fast in his belief in physical force Irish Republicanism. In 1939 he supports the demand from Seán Russell for the “S-Plan” bombing campaign in Britain, which proves disastrous. He allegedly meets Hermann Göring in Berlin in 1939 to ask for aid for the IRA, which leads indirectly to “Plan Kathleen.”

McGarrity is a lifelong friend of fellow Carrickmore native and avid Republican, Patrick McCartan. When he dies on September 4, 1940 a mass is held in the St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin. He remains an unrepentant physical force republican all his life. A number of McGarrity’s papers are in the National Library of Ireland. He donates his personal Library to Villanova University.

The IRA signs all its statements ‘J.J. McGarrity’ until 1969 when the organisation splits into the ‘Official‘ and ‘Provisional‘ movements. Thereafter the term continues to be used by the Officials while the Provisionals adopt the moniker ‘P.O’Neill.’


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The Clerkenwell Explosion

The Clerkenwell explosion, also known as the Clerkenwell Outrage, is a bombing that takes place in London on December 13, 1867. The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), nicknamed the “Fenians“, explode a bomb to try to free one of their members being held on remand at Clerkenwell Prison. The explosion damages nearby houses, kills 12 people and causes 120 injuries. None of the prisoners escape.

The whole of Ireland has been under British rule since the end of the Nine Years’ War in 1603. The Irish Republican Brotherhood is founded on March 17, 1858 with the aim of establishing an independent democratic republic in Ireland, and the Fenian Brotherhood, ostensibly the American wing of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, is founded in New York City in 1859.

On November 20, 1867, Ricard O’Sullivan Burke and his companion Joseph Casey are arrested in Woburn Square in London. Burke had purchased weapons for the Fenians in Birmingham. Burke is charged with treason and Casey with assaulting a constable. They are remanded in custody pending trial, and imprisoned at the Middlesex House of Detention, also known as Clerkenwell Prison.

Burke’s IRB colleagues try to free him on Thursday, December 12, without success. They try to blow a hole in the prison wall while the prisoners are exercising in the prison yard but their bomb fails to explode. They try again at about 3:45 PM the following day, December 13, using a barrel of gunpowder concealed on a costermonger‘s barrow. The explosion demolishes a 60-foot section of the wall, but no one escapes. The prison authorities had been forewarned and the prisoners were exercised earlier in the day, so they are locked in their cells when the bomb explodes. The blast also damages several nearby tenement houses on Corporation Lane on the opposite side of the road, killing 12 people and causing many injuries, with estimates ranging from around 30 to over 120.

Charges are laid against eight, but two turn Queen’s evidence. Michael Barrett and five others are tried at the Old Bailey in April 1868. Lord Chief Justice Sir Alexander Cockburn and Baron George Bramwell preside with a jury. The prosecution is led by the Attorney General Sir John Karslake and the Solicitor General Sir William Baliol Brett supported by Hardinge Giffard QC and two junior counsel. Defence barristers included Montagu Williams and Edward Clarke.

Barrett, a native of County Fermanagh, protests his innocence, and some witnesses testify that he was in Scotland on December 13, but another identifies him as being present at the scene. Two defendants are acquitted on the instructions of the presiding judges in the course of the trial, leaving four before the jury. Following deliberations, three of the defendants are acquitted, but Barrett is convicted of murder on April 27 and sentenced to death. Barrett is hanged by William Calcraft on the morning of Tuesday, May 26, 1868 outside Newgate Prison. He is the last man to be publicly hanged in England, with the practice being ended from May 29, 1868 by the Capital Punishment Amendment Act 1868.

The trial of Burke and Casey, and a third defendant, Henry Shaw, begains on April 28, all charged with treason. The prosecution claims that Burke had been involved in finding arms for the Fenians in Birmingham in late 1865 and early 1866, where he was using the name “Edward C Winslow.” The case against Casey is ultimately withdrawn, but Burke and Shaw are found guilty of treason on April 30 and sentenced to 15 years and 7 years of penal servitude respectively.

The bombing enrages the British public, souring relations between England and Ireland and causing a panic over the Fenian threat. The radical, Charles Bradlaugh, condemns the incident in his newspaper, the National Reformer, as an act “calculated to destroy all sympathy, and to evoke the opposition of all classes.” The Metropolitan Police form a Special Irish Branch at Scotland Yard in March 1883, initially as a small section of the Criminal Investigation Department, to monitor Fenian activity.

In April 1867, the supreme council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood condemns the Clerkenwell Outrage as a “dreadful and deplorable event,” but the organisation returns to bombings in Britain in 1881 to 1885, with the Fenian dynamite campaign.

(Pictured: The House of Detention in Clerkenwell after the bombing as seen from within the prison yard)


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The Funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa

The funeral of Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa is held before a huge crowd at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin on August 1, 1915.

Rossa’s body had been returned from New York City where he died June 29. He had been exiled by the British for his Fenian activities in 1871. While in exile, Rossa manages to alienate many of his former Fenian colleagues, including his good friend John Devoy, with his uncompromising advocacy of violence to end British rule in Ireland. Perhaps his attitude is due in part to the harsh treatment he receives in British prisons as well as scenes he witnesses while helping to distribute relief in his native County Cork during the Great Hunger.

In the late 1870s, he organizes the “Skirmishing Fund,” which finances the infamous Fenian dynamite campaign in England. When he dies in New York on June 29, 1915, he is estranged from most in the Irish republican movement.

Rossa’s funeral is one of the seminal events in the revival of the Irish republican movement in Ireland. During the three days when Rossa lays in the vestibule of the City Hall, encased in a coffin with a plate glass lid, thousands of citizens pass by to pay their final respects.

The coffin is conveyed from the City Hall in the four-horse bier in waiting at 2:25 PM and fifteen minutes later the cortège starts, headed by a guard of honour of the Irish Volunteers with rifles, a mounted guard being supplied by the same body. The coffin is thickly covered with wreaths and an open carriage behind is also filled with floral tokens, while many of the contingents carry wreaths to be placed on the grave.

The procession, in marching four deep at a slow pace, takes a little over fifty minutes to pass the corner of Dame Street into George’s Street. A conservative estimate of those who actually take part in the procession give the numbers as exceeding 6,000 and there must be at least ten times that number lining the streets.

The funeral comes into College Green at about 3:00 PM, headed by a body of Volunteers with the St. James’s Band. It is nearing 6:00 PM when the hearse passes through the main gates of Glasnevin Cemetery. The avenue leading to the mortuary chapel is lined by detachments of Volunteers. The prayers in the chapel are said by the Rev. D. Byrne, chaplain. Several priests then accompany the coffin to the grave, which is situated just beyond the eastern fringe of the O’Connell circle, close to the graves of two other prominent Fenians, John O’Leary and James Stephens.

Patrick Pearse gives an address at the graveside which has resounded with republicans down through the years. The final words of his oration provide them with one of their most enduring slogans, “Ireland unfree will never be at peace.”

A firing party then fires a volley, the Last Post is sounded and wreaths are laid on the grave.


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Death of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa

jeremiah-odonovan-rossaJeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Irish Fenian leader and prominent member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, dies suddenly in Staten Island, New York, on June 29, 1915.

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa is born Jeremiah O’Donovan at Reenascreena, Rosscarbery, County Cork, on September 10, 1831. Rossa becomes a shopkeeper in Skibbereen where, in 1856, he establishes the Phoenix National and Literary Society, the aim of which is “the liberation of Ireland by force of arms.” This organisation later merges with the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), founded two years later in Dublin.

In December 1858, Roosa is arrested and jailed without trial until July 1859. He is charged with plotting a Fenian rising in 1865, put on trial for high treason, and sentenced to penal servitude for life due to previous convictions. He serves his time in Pentonville, Portland, and Chatham prisons in England.

In an 1869 by-election, Roosa is returned to the British House of Commons for the Tipperary constituency, defeating the Liberal Catholic Denis Caulfield Heron by 1054 to 898 votes. The election is declared invalid because Rossa is an imprisoned felon.

After giving an understanding that he will not return to Ireland, Rossa is released as part of the Fenian Amnesty of 1870. Boarding the S.S. Cuba, he leaves for the United States with his friend John Devoy and three other exiles. Together they were dubbed “The Cuba Five.”

Rossa takes up residence in New York City, where he joins Clan na Gael and the Fenian Brotherhood. He organises the first ever bombings by Irish republicans of English cities in what is called the “dynamite campaign.” The campaign lasts through the 1880s and makes him infamous in Britain. The British government demands his extradition from America but without success.

In 1885, Rossa is shot outside his office near Broadway by an Englishwoman, Yseult Dudley, but his wounds are not life-threatening. He is allowed to visit Ireland in 1894, and again in 1904. On the latter visit, he is made a “Freeman of the City of Cork.”

Rossa is seriously ill in his later years, and is finally confined to a hospital bed in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Staten Island, where he dies at the age of 83 on June 29, 1915. His body is returned to Ireland for burial and a hero’s welcome. The funeral at Glasnevin Cemetery on August 1, 1915 is a huge affair, garnering substantial publicity for the Irish Volunteers and the IRB at time when a rebellion, later to emerge as the Easter Rising, is being actively planned. The graveside oration given by Patrick Pearse remains one of the most famous speeches of the Irish independence movement stirring his audience to a call to arms.