seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Mountjoy Prison Helicopter Escape

The Mountjoy Prison helicopter escape occurs on October 31, 1973 when three Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers escape from Mountjoy Prison in Dublin aboard a hijacked Alouette II helicopter, which briefly lands in the prison’s exercise yard. The escape makes headlines around the world and is an embarrassment to the Irish coalition government of the time, led by Fine Gael‘s Liam Cosgrave, which is criticised by opposition party Fianna Fáil. A manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána is launched for the escapees, one of whom, Seamus Twomey, is not recaptured until December 1977. The Wolfe Tones write a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song,” which tops the Irish Singles Chart.

Following the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s, the Provisional IRA conducts an armed campaign that seeks to create a united Ireland by ending Northern Ireland‘s status as part of the United Kingdom. As a result of increasing levels of violence in Northern Ireland, internment without trial is introduced there in August 1971, and in the Republic of Ireland the coalition government led by Fine Gael’s Liam Cosgrave is attempting to curb IRA activity. Fine Gael had come to power on a law and order ticket, with a policy of “getting tough on crime.” Suspected IRA members are arrested and accused of IRA membership by a superintendent in the Garda Síochána, a crime under the Offences against the State Acts. They are tried at the juryless Special Criminal Court in Dublin, where the traditional IRA policy of not recognising the court results in a fait accompli as no defence is offered and IRA membership carries a minimum mandatory one-year sentence, resulting in internment in all but name. In September 1973 IRA Chief of Staff Seamus Twomey appears at the Special Criminal Court charged with IRA membership, and states, “I refuse to recognise this British-orientated quisling court.” He is found guilty and receives a five-year sentence. By October 1973 the IRA’s command structure is seriously curbed, with Twomey and other senior republicans J. B. O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon all being held in Mountjoy Prison.

The IRA immediately begins making plans to break Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon out of the prison. The first attempt involves explosives that had been smuggled into the prison, which are to be used to blow a hole in a door which will give the prisoners access to the exercise yard. From there, they are to scale a rope ladder thrown over the exterior wall by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade who are to have a getaway car waiting to complete the escape. The plans when the prisoners cannot gain access to the exercise yard and the rope ladder is spotted, so the IRA begins making new escape plans. The idea of using a helicopter in an escape had been discussed before in a plot to break Gerry Adams out of Long Kesh internment camp but had been ruled out because of faster and more sophisticated British Army helicopters being stationed at a nearby base. The IRA’s GHQ staff approves the plan to break out Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon, and arrangements are made to obtain a helicopter. A man with an American accent calling himself Mr. Leonard approaches the manager of Irish Helicopters at Dublin Airport, with a view to hiring a helicopter for an aerial photographic shoot in County Laois. After being shown the company’s fleet of helicopters, Leonard arranges to hire a five-seater Alouette II for October 31.

Leonard arrives at Irish Helicopters on October 31 and is introduced to the pilot of the helicopter, Captain Thompson Boyes. Boyes is instructed to fly to a field in Stradbally, in order to pick up Leonard’s photographic equipment. After landing Boyes sees two armed, masked men approaching the helicopter from nearby trees. He is held at gunpoint and told he will not be harmed if he follows instructions. Leonard leaves with one gunman, while the other gunman climbs aboard the helicopter armed with a pistol and an ArmaLite rifle. Boyes is instructed to fly towards Dublin following the path of railway lines and the Royal Canal, and is ordered not to register his flight path with Air Traffic Control. As the helicopter approaches Dublin, Boyes is informed of the escape plan and is instructed to land in the exercise yard at Mountjoy Prison.

In the prison’s exercise yard, the prisoners are watching a football match. Shortly after 3:35 p.m. the helicopter swings in to land in the prison yard, with Kevin Mallon directing the pilot using semaphore. A prison officer on duty initially takes no action as he believes the helicopter contains the Minister for Defence, Paddy Donegan. After prisoners surround the eight prison officers in the yard, fights break out as the officers realise an escape attempt is in progress. As other prisoners restrain the officers, Twomey, Mallon and O’Hagan board the helicopter. As the helicopter takes off, in the confusion one officer shouts, “Close the gates, close the fucking gates.” The helicopter flies north and lands at a disused racecourse in the Baldoyle area of Dublin, where the escapees are met by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade. Boyes is released unharmed, and the escapees are transferred to a taxi that had been hijacked earlier and are transported to safe houses.

The escape makes headlines around the world and is an embarrassment for Cosgrave’s government, which is criticised for “incompetence in security matters” by opposition party Fianna Fáil. An emergency debate on security is held in Dáil Éireann on November 1.

The IRA releases a statement on the escape, which reads, “Three republican prisoners were rescued by a special unit from Mountjoy Prison on Wednesday. The operation was a complete success and the men are now safe, despite a massive hunt by Free State forces.” Shortly after the escape Twomey gives an exclusive interview to German magazine Der Spiegel, where the reporter says people throughout Europe are joking about the incident as “the escape of the century.” Irish rebel band the Wolfe Tones writes a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song,” which is immediately banned by the government yet still tops the Irish Singles Chart after selling twelve thousand copies in a single week.

The escape results in all IRA prisoners being held at Mountjoy Prison and Curragh Camp being transferred to the maximum security Portlaoise Prison. In order to prevent any further escapes the perimeter of the prison is guarded by members of the Irish Army, and wires are erected over the prison yard to prevent any future helicopter escape. Cosgrave states there will be “no hiding place” for the escapees, and a manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána ensues.

Mallon is recaptured at a Gaelic Athletic Association dance in a hotel near Portlaoise on December 10, 1973, and imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. He escapes from there in a mass break-out on August 18, 1974, when nineteen prisoners escape after overpowering guards and using gelignite to blast through the gates. He is recaptured in Foxrock in January 1975 and returned to Portlaoise Prison. O’Hagan is recaptured in Dublin in early 1975, and also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. After the end of his original twelve-month sentence, he is immediately arrested and sentenced to a further two years imprisonment for escaping. Twomey evades recapture until December 2, 1977, when he is spotted sitting in a car in Sandycove by members of the Garda’s Special Branch who are investigating an arms shipment after a tip-off from police in Belgium. He drives away after spotting the officers, before being recaptured in the centre of Dublin after a high-speed car chase. He is also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison until his release in 1982.

In 2021, Brendan Hughes publishes an autobiography Up Like a Bird, an account of the planning and organisation of the escape, co-authored with Doug Dalby.


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Birth of George Colley, Fianna Fáil Politician

George Colley, an Irish Fianna Fáil politician, is born in the Dublin suburb of Fairview on October 18, 1925.

Colley is the son of Harry and Christina Colley. His father is a veteran of the 1916 Easter Rising and a former adjutant in the Irish Republican Army (IRA), who is elected to Dáil Éireann in 1944, as a Fianna Fáil candidate. He is educated at St. Joseph’s Secondary C.B.S. in Fairview, where one of his classmates and closest friends is Charles Haughey, who later becomes his political arch rival. He studies law at University College Dublin (UCD) and qualifies as a solicitor in the mid-1940s. He remains friends with Haughey after leaving school and, ironically, encourages him to become a member of Fianna Fáil in 1951. Haughey is elected to Dáil Éireann in the 1957 Irish general election, ousting Colley’s father in the process. This puts some strain on the relationship between the two young men.

Colley is elected to the Dáil at the 1961 Irish general election, reclaiming his father’s old seat in the Dublin North-East constituency. Furthermore, he is elected in the same constituency as Haughey, thereby accentuating the rivalry. Thereafter, he progresses rapidly through the ranks of Fianna Fáil. He becomes a member of the Dáil at a time when a change from the older to the younger generation is taking place, a change facilitated by Taoiseach Seán Lemass.

Colley is active in the Oireachtas as chairman of some of the Joint Labour Committees, which are set up under the Labour Court, to fix legally enforceable wages for groups of workers who have not been effectively organised in trade unions. He is also leader of the Irish parliamentary delegation to the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe. His work as a backbencher is rewarded by his appointment as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Lands in October 1964.

Following the return of Lemass’s government at the 1965 Irish general election, Colley joins the cabinet as Minister for Education. He introduces a plan to establish comprehensive schools, set up an advisory council on post-primary school accommodation in Dublin, and introduces a school psychological service.

Colley is promoted as Minister for Industry and Commerce in a cabinet reshuffle in July 1966, and he continues the government policy of economic expansion that had prevailed since the late 1950s.

In November 1966, Seán Lemass resigns suddenly as party leader. Colley contests the subsequent leadership election. He is the favoured candidate of party elders such as Seán MacEntee and Frank Aiken, the latter managing Colley’s campaign. Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney also declare their interest in the leadership, however both withdraw when the Minister for Finance, Jack Lynch, announces his candidacy. Colley does not back down and the leadership issue goes to a vote for the first time in the history of the Fianna Fáil party. The leadership election takes place on November 9, 1966, and Lynch beats Colley by 59 votes to 19. When the new Taoiseach announces his cabinet, Colley retains the Industry and Commerce portfolio.

In the wake of the Arms Crisis in 1970, a major reshuffle of the cabinet takes place, with four Ministers either removed, or resigned, or simply retired from the government due to the scandal. Colley remains loyal to the party leader and is rewarded by his appointment as Minister for Finance, the second most important position in government.

In 1973, Fianna Fáil are ousted after sixteen years in government when the national coalition of Fine Gael and the Labour Party come to power. Colley is appointed opposition Spokesman on Finance, in the new Fianna Fáil front bench. As the 1977 Irish general election approaches, Colley and Martin O’Donoghue are the main architects of Fianna Fáil’s election manifesto.

Fianna Fáil sweeps to power at the 1977 Irish general election, with a 20-seat Dáil majority, contrary to opinion polls and political commentators. Colley is re-appointed as Minister for Finance and Minister for the Public Service, and is also appointed as Tánaiste, establishing him firmly as the heir apparent to Taoiseach Jack Lynch.

In December 1979, Jack Lynch resigns unexpectedly as Taoiseach and as Fianna Fáil leader. Colley and Charles Haughey seek the leadership position and are evenly matched. A secret ballot is taken on December 7, 1979. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Michael O’Kennedy, announces his support for Haughey on the eve of the election. This apparently swings the vote, and Haughey beats Colley by 44 votes to 38. Colley remains as Tánaiste, but demands and receives a veto on Haughey’s ministerial appointments to the departments of Justice and Defence.

Fianna Fáil loses power at the 1981 Irish general election. Haughey delays naming a new opposition front bench, but Colley remains a key member of the Fianna Fáil hierarchy. The party regains office at the February 1982 Irish general election. He demands the same veto as before on Haughey’s Defence and Justice appointments, but is refused. When it is revealed that Ray MacSharry is to be appointed Tánaiste in his stead, he declines another ministerial position. This effectively brings his front bench political career to an end, but he remains a vocal critic of the party leadership from the backbenches.

When the Fianna Fáil government collapses and are replaced by another coalition government after the November 1982 Irish general election, a number of TDs and Senators express lack of confidence in Haughey’s leadership once again. Several unsuccessful leadership challenges take place in late 1982 and early 1983, with Colley now supporting Desmond O’Malley and the Gang of 22 who oppose Haughey.

Colley dies suddenly on September 17, 1983, aged 57, while receiving treatment for a heart condition at Guy’s Hospital, Southwark, London. He is survived by his wife, three sons, and four daughters, one of whom, Anne Colley, becomes a TD as a member of the Progressive Democrats party.


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Birth of Emer Colleran, Microbiologist & Environmental Advocate

Emer Colleran, Irish microbiologist, academic and an environmental advocate, is born in Ballinrobe, County Mayo, on October 12, 1945. She is professor of microbiology at the National University of Ireland, Galway, a member of the Royal Irish Academy, one of Mary Robinson‘s nominees on the Council of State, and chairwoman of An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland.

Colleran, and her twin Noreen, are born to John and Josie Colleran. One of a family of five children, her father is a school principal and her mother, also a primary school teacher, dies when she is just 11 years old. She completes her secondary education at St. Louis secondary school in Kiltimagh. She spends a lot of time outdoors as a child, particularly fishing, which sparks her interest in the environment.

On entering higher education, Colleran has a grant from the Department of Education, which requires that she do her studies through the Irish language. Her first choice, Medicine, is not available in Irish so she chooses Science. She graduates with a first class primary degree in Science at University College Galway (now National University of Ireland, Galway) in 1967.

Colleran specialises in anaerobic digestion as a postgraduate and in 1971 becomes a postdoctoral fellow for two years at the University of Bristol in the UK.

Colleran lectures in biology at Athlone Regional Technical College (now Athlone Institute of Technology) and Galway Regional Technical College (now Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology) before her appointment as a lecturer in microbiology at NUI Galway in 1976. She is appointed Associate Professor of Microbiology by the Senate of the National University of Ireland in 1990. She is a member of the university’s governing authority for a number of years, but steps down in May 2000 in connection with the selection procedure for the new university president. In October of that year she is appointed professor of microbiology and chair of the department at NUI Galway.

Colleran is the first director of the Environment Change Institute at NUI Galway set up under the Higher Education Authority‘s Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions in 2000. In 2010, the Environmental Change Institute and the Martin Ryan Marine Research Institute are merged to form the current day Ryan Institute at NUI Galway.

In 1973 Colleran is elected to the committee of the Galway Association of An Taisce, part of a national voluntary organisation the aims of which are to conservation in Ireland through education, publicity and positive action. She serves as membership secretary and then treasurer to the Galway branch before becoming chairman. In 1981, as chairman of the Galway branch, she hits back at claims from Galway County Council that An Taisce are “an anonymous group, wielding power unfairly.” She is involved in the compilation of a controversial planning report, published by An Taisce in 1983, which highlights abuse of planning laws by city and county councillors across Ireland, and in particular in counties Galway, Mayo, Donegal, Kerry and Louth.

Colleran serves as Environmental Officer for An Taisce before being elected National Chairman in 1987, the first time a chairman has come from one of the western county associations. She continues to use her position to campaign against misuse of planning laws, for a clamp down on pollution of rivers and lakes, and against a move to scrap An Foras Forbartha, a body that provides independent monitoring of pollution. During her three years as chairman, until May 1990, she is particularly involved in debates over local environmental and planning issues, in particular over gold mining in the west of Ireland, a proposed airport for Clifden, and the planned sewage treatment plant at Mutton Island, County Galway.

In 1991 plans are announced for a new visitor centre, to be located at Mullaghmore in The Burren. Colleran is among those who are part of an appeal, saying that while the plan for the national park is welcomed by An Taisce, they want the visitor centre to be located three or four miles from Mullaghmore.

President Mary Robinson appoints seven new members to her Council of State in February 1991, including Colleran. Other new members appointed at the time are Monica Barnes, Patricia O’Donovan, Quintan Oliver, Rosemarie Smith, Dónal Toolan and D. Kenneth Whitaker. The new Council of State represents a wide spectrum of Irish life and is widely welcomed, although Fine Gael is disappointed that its leader John Bruton is not included.

In 1991, Colleran is one of 15 people appointed to Taoiseach Charles Haughey‘s Green 2000 Advisory Group, to determine which problems will face the environment in the next century. The group is led by Dr. David Cabot, special advisor on environmental affairs.

Colleran is appointed a member of the National Heritage Council in 1995 by the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Michael D. Higgins. In the same year the Minister of State at the Department of the Marine, Eamon Gilmore, appoints her to the chair of the Sea Trout working group to oversee the implementation of recommendations to tackle a decline in sea trout stocks, particularly in the west of Ireland.

In 2003 Colleran is elected as a member of the Royal Irish Academy.

Colleran is recognised at the annual NUI Galway Alumni Awards in 2004 when she receives the award for Natural Science, sponsored by Seavite Bodycare Ltd., which acknowledges a graduate who has made an outstanding contribution in the field of natural science.

Colleran dies on June 30, 2018, at University Hospital Galway.


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Birth of Bertie Ahern, 11th Taoiseach of Ireland

Bartholemew Patrick “Bertie” Ahern, former Fianna Fáil politician who serves as Taoiseach from 1997 to 2008, is born in Drumcondra, Dublin, on September 12, 1951. He also serves as Leader of Fianna Fáil (1994-2008), Leader of the Opposition (1994-97), Tánaiste and Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Nov.1994-Dec.1994), Deputy Leader of Fianna Fáil (1992-94), Minister for Industry and Commerce (Jan. 1993), Minister for Finance (1991-94), Minister for Labour (1987-1991), Government Chief Whip and Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Mar. 1982-Dec. 1982), Lord Mayor of Dublin (1986-1987) and as a Teachta Dála (TD) (1977-2011).

Ahern is educated at St. Patrick’s National School, Drumcondra and at St. Aidan’s Christian Brothers, Whitehall. He receives his third level education at the College of Commerce, Rathmines, part of the Dublin Institute of Technology. He claims or it has been claimed by others in circulated biographies that he was educated at University College Dublin (UCD), and the London School of Economics, but neither university has any records that show Ahern was ever one of their students. He subsequently works in the Accounts Department of Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin.

By 1972, Ahern has met his future wife, Miriam Kelly, a bank official who lives near the Aherns’ family home. They marry in St. Columba’s Church, Iona Road in 1975. They have two daughters from the marriage, Georgina and Cecelia. Georgina is the wife of Westlife member Nicky Byrne. Cecelia is a best-selling author. The Aherns separate in 1992.

Ahern is elected to the Dáil, the lower house of the Oireachtas, in 1977 as a member of the Fianna Fáil party for the newly created Dublin Finglas constituency. He is elected to the Dublin City Council in 1979, later becoming Lord Mayor of Dublin (1986–87). An assistant whip (1980–81) in the first government of Taoiseach Charles Haughey, he becomes a junior minister in Haughey’s second government (1982) and Minister for Labour in his third (1987–89) and fourth (1989–91) governments.

Ahern’s success in establishing general economic agreements with employers, unions, and farmers in 1987 and 1990 and his role in constructing the first Fianna Fáil coalition government (with the Progressive Democrats) in 1989 confirms his reputation as a skillful negotiator. He is made Minister for Finance in 1991. In the contest to choose Haughey’s successor, Ahern withdraws in favour of Albert Reynolds, and he remains Minister for Finance in each of Reynolds’s two governments (February–November 1992 and 1993–94). In November 1994, following the fall of the Fianna Fáil–Labour Party government, Reynolds resigns, and Ahern is elected party leader. He is set to become Taoiseach in a new coalition with the Labour Party, but at the eleventh hour Labour opts to join a government with Fine Gael and Democratic Left.

Ahern forms a Fianna Fáil–Progressive Democrats minority government following elections in 1997. Credited with overseeing a thriving economy, he is reelected Taoiseach in 2002. He plays a major role in securing peace in Northern Ireland, participating in the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and helping negotiate the return of devolution to Northern Ireland in 2007. On May 15, 2007, he becomes the first Taoiseach to address a joint session of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Soon afterward Ahern wins a third term as Taoiseach. He is reelected despite implications of his involvement in an influence-peddling scandal. The Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters & Payments, ultimately better known as the Mahon Tribunal, which is investigating alleged illegal payments by developers to politicians to influence zoning decisions in and around Dublin during the early 1990s, subsequently questions Ahern about his personal finances during his tenure as Minister for Finance. In early April 2008, as the investigation of Ahern’s involvement mounts, he announces that he will step down as Taoiseach and Leader of Fianna Fáil in May. He is succeeded in both posts by Brian Cowen. In the Mahon Tribunal’s final report, issued on March 22, 2012, it indicates that it does not believe Ahern had told the truth when questioned by the commission about alleged financial improprieties, though it does not directly accuse him of corruption. Ahern, threatened with expulsion from Fianna Fáil in the wake of the report, resigns from the party later in March while still maintaining that he had testified truthfully to the tribunal.

Ahern says in April 2018 that he is considering running for President of Ireland in 2025 as an independent candidate. That same month he walks out of an interview with DW News after being questioned on the findings of the Mahon Tribunal.

In October 2018, Ahern is appointed to chair the Bougainville Referendum Commission, which is responsible for preparing an independence referendum in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which takes place in December 2019.


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Gerry Adams Announces Re-election Bid as Sinn Féin President

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams announces on September 5, 2017, he will seek re-election as the party president in November and then outline his own future intentions as the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) prepares to complete a generational shift in its leadership.

Adams, Sinn Féin leader for over thirty years, will seek re-election to the one-year post at the party’s annual conference and set out his future plans at that time. “I will be allowing my name to go forward for the position of Uachtaran Shinn Féin (President of Sinn Féin),” Adams says in a speech at a meeting of the party’s lawmakers. “And if elected I will be setting out our priorities and in particular our planned process of generational change, including my own future intentions.”

“We have no ambition to be part of the system. Our ambition is to change it. That means we must be in government – North and South,” Adams says.

Reviled by many as the face of the IRA during its campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland, Adams reinvented himself as a peacemaker in the troubled region and then as a populist opposition lawmaker in the Irish Republic. Around 3,600 people were killed during Northern Ireland’s “Troubles,” three decades of sectarian bloodshed between pro-British Protestant unionists and Catholic nationalists seeking a united Ireland that was ended by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Whenever Adams decides to step down, he will almost certainly hand over to a successor with no direct involvement in the decades of conflict in Northern Ireland, say political analysts, making Sinn Féin a more palatable coalition partner in the Irish Republic where it has never been in power. Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, who has been at the forefront of a new breed of Sinn Féin politicians transforming the left-wing party’s image, is the clear favorite to take over. Michelle O’Neill, another Sinn Féin lawmaker in her 40s, succeeded Martin McGuinness as leader in Northern Ireland shortly before the former IRA commander’s death in March 2017.

With McGuinness, Adams turned Sinn Féin into the dominant nationalist party in Northern Ireland and the third largest party south of the border. Adams said the previous month that he intended to lead the party into the next parliamentary election in the Irish republic where suspicion of Sinn Féin’s role in the Northern Ireland troubles still runs deep among the main political parties.

The far larger ruling Fine Gael and main opposition Fianna Fáil, a more natural ally, have ruled out governing with Sinn Féin but analysts say a change of leader could soften that stance. The next election is expected in the next 12 months.

(From: “Sinn Féin’s Adams to outline succession plan in November” by Padraic Halpin | Photo: Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams speaks at an event in Gormanstown, Ireland, September 5, 2017, REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne)


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The Great Portlaoise Escape

Nineteen republican prisoners blast their way out of Portlaoise Prison in County Laois on August 18, 1974.

The escape is a timely reminder of the determination, tenacity and ingenuity with which Irish Republican Army (IRA) Volunteers throughout the country fight against British rule in Ireland. It is also a reminder to the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government in Leinster House that their collaboration with the British and their attempts to defeat republicanism will not be an easy task.

The determination of republicans to escape from Portlaoise is demonstrated by the escape. In May 1974, an underground escape was planned but the 80-foot tunnel was uncovered and the prisoners’ hopes were dashed. However, almost immediately plans swung into place for a more daring escape operation.

A member of the Escape Committee spots a weakness in the jail security in the area of the prison where the laundry house is situated. The laundry leads to an outside stairway and down into the courtyard, where the Governor’s House and Warders’ Mess are located.

The prisoners discover that they can gain access to the laundry area quite easily. It is a doorway at the top of the courtyard which leads out onto the streets of Portlaoise town itself that give the prisoners hope that their plan will work. However, the Escape Committee decides that they need explosives to get through this gate and send word outside to this effect. The IRA on the outside, agreeing that the plan is “viable,” send in the materials and the plan is on.

The date for the escape is set for August 18, 1974 and planning proceeds inside the prison. The prisoners set themselves to work making prison guard uniforms. The idea is that when the escapees are running through the courtyard, the troops on the roof of the jail will not be able to distinguish between the escapees and the real guards and so will not open fire. This pre-planning proves to be a brilliant ploy as it gives those escaping vital seconds to clear the courtyard and make good their escape.

On the Friday before the plan is to proceed, a number of republicans are arrested in Portlaoise. This seems a bad omen and raises questions as to whether the authorities are suspicious that an escape is planned. However, the Escape Committee and those involved in the operation decide to press ahead with the plan anyway.

Sunday, August 18 duly arrives. According to prisoners who are in Portlaoise Prison at the time, no one can eat anything that day as the tension is unbearable. At 12:30 p.m., the designated time to put the plan into action, arrives and Liam Brown approaches the guard at the gate of the lower landing and asks to be let in. This is the signal for the first team of escapees to rush forward and get the key to the laundry. The guard is quickly overpowered and gives up the key with little resistance.

With this first stage of the plan successfully completed, the escapees open the door to the stairwell and rush through to the courtyard, followed by up to 25 other prisoners. As the prisoners race to the top of the yard to place the bomb at the outside gate, the soldiers on the roof are confused by the uniforms and cannot open fire.

The bomb then explodes, blasting the door to pieces. As the prisoners make the final dash for freedom, the soldiers fire warning shots over the heads of the fleeing republicans. Some of the prisoners drop to the ground fearing the worst but as the guards race from their mess they call on the soldiers to stop firing.

Those who are captured are brought into the Wing again and the governor demands a head count. The prisoners, however, refuse to comply, adding to the confusion and thwarting the prison authorities’ attempts to identify the escapees. It is only after the guards threaten to send in the riot squad several hours later that the prisoners allow a head count to be taken. When they realise that 19 men had escaped, the joy the prisoner experience is immense as they thought only 14 had got away.

In an attempt to capture the escapees, the Dublin Government launches a statewide search operation. Every outhouse in County Wexford is searched. The Irish Naval Service is even called in and put on the alert. The searches go on for over a week but to no avail. The nineteen men had gotten clean away.

Those who escape are Liam Brown, Paddy Devenny and Micky Nolan from Belfast; Tom McFeely and Ian Milne from County Derry; Thomas McGinty and Eddie Gallagher from County Donegal; Patrick Thornberry, Kevin McAllister and Martin McAllister from County Armagh; Francis Hughes and Kevin Mallon from County Tyrone; Oliver McKiernan from County Fermanagh; Bernard Hegarty and Sam O’Hare from County Louth; Michael Kinsella and Seán Kinsella from County Monaghan; Seán Morris from County Meath; and Tony Weldon from Dublin.

(From: “30 years on: The Great Portlaoise Escape,” An Phoblacht, http://www.anphoblacht.com, August 26, 2004)


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Birth of Simon Coveney, Minister of Foreign Affairs & Deputy Leader of Fine Gael

Simon Coveney, Fine Gael politician who has served as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Leader of Fine Gael since 2017 and Minister for Defence since 2020, is born in Cork, County Cork, on June 16, 1972.

Coveney is born to Hugh Coveney, a chartered quantity surveyor and later a TD, and Pauline Coveney. His uncle is Archbishop Patrick Coveney. His brother, Patrick, is chief executive of the food corporation Greencore. He is educated locally in Cork, before later attending Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare. He is expelled from the college in Transition Year but ultimately is invited back to complete his full six years there. He repeats his Leaving Certificate in Bruce College in Cork. He subsequently attends University College Cork and Gurteen College, County Tipperary, before completing a BSc in Agriculture and Land Management from Royal Agricultural College, Gloucestershire.

A keen fan of all competitive sport, Coveney plays rugby for Garryowen, Cork Constitution and Crosshaven Rugby Club. In 1997-98, he leads the “Sail Chernobyl Project” which involves sailing a boat 30,000 miles around the world and raising €650,000 for charity. He is a qualified sailing instructor and lifeguard. He spends several years working as an agriculture adviser and farm manager.

Coveney is first elected to Dáil Éireann in a 1998 by-election as a Fine Gael candidate for Cork South-Central. He holds Shadow Ministries in the areas of Drugs and Youth Affairs, Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, and Transport. He chairs the Fine Gael Policy Development Committee prior to the 2011 Irish general election.

Coveney is a member of Cork County Council and the Southern Health Board from 1999 to 2003.

Coveney is elected to the European Parliament in 2004 and is a member of the EPP-ED group. He is a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee. He is the author of the European Parliament’s Annual Report on Human Rights in the World for the year 2004 and again for 2006.

Coveney is named Tánaiste by Leo Varadkar, replacing Frances Fitzgerald, on November 30, 2017, a position he holds until June 27, 2020. He also serves as Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government as well as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. For the six month period ending June 2013 he chairs the EU Council of Agriculture & Fisheries Ministers where he is at the forefront regarding EU efforts in respect of Common Agricultural (CAP) as well as Common Fisheries (CFP) Policy reforms. Under his chairmanship both dossiers are progressed significantly, with a reform package for CFP agreed in May 2013 and a reform package for CAP agreed at the end of the Irish Presidency in July. The Defence portfolio is added to his brief on July 11, 2014.

In July 2008, Simon marries his long-time girlfriend Ruth Furney, an IDA Ireland employee. They have three daughters and currently live in Carrigaline, County Cork.


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Death of Fionán Lynch, Revolutionary, Barrister, Politician & Judge

Fionán (Finian) Lynch, Irish revolutionary, barrister, politician and judge, dies on June 3, 1966 in Dartry, a small suburb of Dublin.

Lynch is born on March 17, 1889 in Cahersiveen, County Kerry, the fourth son of Finian Lynch of Kilmakerin, Cahersiveen, a national teacher, and Ellen Maria Lynch (née McCarthy). Educated at St. Brendan’s College, Killarney, Rockwell College, County Tipperary, and Blackrock College, Dublin. He has plans to study medicine, but in 1907, when he is 18 years old, his father dies and he does not have the money to pursue this career path. He becomes a teacher in Swansea, south Wales, where he forms a branch of the Gaelic League and teaches the Irish language.

Lynch returns to Ireland in 1909, where he starts training as a teacher in St Patrick’s College, Dublin. He graduates in 1911 as a primary school teacher. In April 1912 he begins working as a national schoolteacher at St. Michan’s School, Dublin, becomes an active member of the Keating branch of the Gaelic League, and is recruited into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) by Seán Mac Diarmada. He also joins the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and becomes captain of F Company, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade. With Piaras Béaslaí he founds Na hAisteoirí, a drama company dedicated to the production of plays in Irish, with many of its members fighting during the 1916 Easter Rising. In the months before the rising Lynch temporarily stands down from the Volunteers after his school manager tells him he will be sacked if he does not. Learning that a rising was imminent, he rejoins the Volunteers, and over the Easter weekend commands the detachment that guards Bulmer Hobson to prevent him from interfering with Volunteer mobilisation. During the rising he is involved in heavy fighting in the North King Street area and is subsequently imprisoned.

Held at Lewes Prison, Lynch is released under the general amnesty. In August 1916 he is reimprisoned for making an inflammatory speech, and in September leads the Mountjoy Prison hunger strike with Austin Stack and Thomas Ashe. He is released in November following a further hunger strike at Dundalk prison. He is imprisoned again in May 1918 on the same charge during the ‘German Plot’ allegations and is released in August 1919, after which he helps to plan the escape of other prisoners.

Elected a Sinn Féin TD for South Kerry in December 1918 and for Kerry–Limerick West in May 1921, Lynch serves as assistant secretary to the Anglo-Irish Treaty delegation in London (October–December 1921), where he is largely responsible for organising the living arrangements at the two Irish headquarters. A supporter of the treaty, he addresses Pro-Treaty rallies with Michael Collins, and from January to August 1922 is Minister for Education with the Provisional Government, at the same time as Michael Hayes is Minister for Education for Dáil Éireann. Possible conflict is avoided by the pragmatic division of duties, under which Hayes takes responsibility for intermediate and higher education, and Lynch for primary education. It is also left to Lynch to clarify the relationship between the new Provisional Government and the board of commissioners of intermediate education, which is not abolished until 1923. These developments, however, are overshadowed by the beginning of the Irish Civil War, where military considerations take precedence over civic responsibilities.

Required to serve in the army, in July 1922 Lynch is appointed a vice-commandant of the south-western division with the rank of commandant-general, commanding a unit of Dublin soldiers in County Kerry, where on occasion he has to endure being ambushed, leading a fellow commandant to note ironically that his constituents do not seem to think much of him. However, the reluctance of former colleagues to attack him possibly ensure his survival during the war. Frank Henderson of Dublin’s No. 1 brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) tells Ernie O’Malley of his reluctance to become involved in reprisal shootings after Free State executions, commenting, “I didn’t like that order. I could have shot Eamonn Duggan and Fionán Lynch, for they went home every night drunk, but I left them alone.”

After the Irish Civil War Lynch is elected a Cumann na nGaedheal TD for Kerry, a seat he holds until 1937, after which he represents the constituency of Kerry South (1937–44). He serves as Minister for Fisheries (1922–28) and Minister for Lands and Fisheries (1928–32), and retains his interest in education. He supports the Irish National Teachers Organisation policy on the Irish language during the 1920s, commenting that he is entirely opposed to attempting to teach subjects through Irish where Irish is not the known language.

In 1931 Lynch qualifies as a barrister. After Fianna Fáil comes to power and during the rise of the Blueshirts he speaks at public meetings with Eoin O’Duffy, and they are attacked by a crowd in Tralee in October 1933. After the fall of O’Duffy and the reorganisation of Fine Gael, W. T. Cosgrave appoints a front bench designed to represent the various groups in the party, which witness former ministers, including Desmond FitzGerald, Patrick Hogan, and Lynch, relegated to the back benches. Lynch serves as Leas-Cheann Comhairle of the Dáil (1938–39). Having built up a legal practice, he retires from politics in October 1944 and is subsequently appointed a circuit court judge in the north-west district, retiring from the bench in 1959.

Lynch dies suddenly at his home in Dartry, County Dublin, on June 3, 1966, shortly after celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. He is survived by his wife Brighid (née Slattery), a native of Tralee, and by their five sons and one daughter. His papers are on permanent loan to Kerry County Library archives.

(From: “Lynch, Fionán (Finian)” by Diarmaid Ferriter, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Birth of Mary O’Rourke, Former Fianna Fáil Politician

Mary O’Rourke (née Lenihan), former Fianna Fáil politician, is born in Athlone, County Westmeath, on May 31, 1937.

O’Rourke is educated at St. Peter’s in Athlone, Loreto Bray Convent in County Wicklow, University College Dublin and St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. She works as a secondary school teacher before beginning her political career.

O’Rourke begins her political career in local politics, serving on Athlone Urban District Council between 1974 and 1987 and on Westmeath County Council between 1979 and 1987. She is elected to Seanad Éireann in 1981 as a Senator for the Cultural and Educational Panel. She stands unsuccessfully for the Dáil at the February 1982 Irish general election, but is subsequently re-elected to the Seanad. At the November 1982 Irish general election, she is first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fianna Fáil TD for the Longford–Westmeath constituency, and from 1992 for the new Westmeath constituency.

In 1987, O’Rourke is appointed Minister for Education by Charles Haughey. She and her brother, Brian Lenihan Snr, become the first brother and sister in Irish history to serve in the same cabinet. In the November 1991 cabinet reshuffle, she becomes Minister for Health. In February 1992, Charles Haughey resigns as Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader and she contests the subsequent leadership election along with Michael Woods and Albert Reynolds. Reynolds wins the election and she is subsequently dropped from her ministerial position, but is appointed to a junior ministry as Minister of State for Labour Affairs at the Departments of Industry and Commerce, and later Enterprise and Employment.

In 1994, Bertie Ahern becomes party leader and he appoints O’Rourke as deputy leader of Fianna Fáil, serving in the position until 2002. Following Ahern’s election as Taoiseach in June 1997, she becomes Minister for Public Enterprise, holding this position until she loses her Dáil seat at the 2002 Irish general election. This follows a vote management strategy from Fianna Fáil head office which restricts her from campaigning in her traditional areas around Kilbeggan, in an attempt to win 2 of the 3 seats in Westmeath. The loss of her Dáil seat is also attributed to her association with and the championing of, the privatisation of Telecom Éireann, which proves a financial disaster for many small investors, due to the share price falling radically, post privatisation. During this term as Minister, she also becomes the subject of public criticism by Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary. Following the loss of her Dáil seat, she is nominated to Seanad Éireann as a Senator by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern where she becomes Leader of the Seanad and leader of Fianna Fáil in the Seanad.

In January 2006, O’Rourke receives the party nomination to stand at the 2007 Irish general election. She narrowly defeats her nearest rival and Dáil election running mate, Kevin “Boxer” Moran of Athlone Town Council, causing a controversy when she thanks her election team for working “like blacks.” She is re-elected to the Dáil at the May 2007 Irish general election, with her highest ever vote.

In November 2008, during a march against the re-introduction of college fees, students from the Athlone Institute of Technology lay a funeral wreath at the door of O’Rourke’s constituency office. The card in the wreath states “Sincere sympathies on the death of free fees. We will remember this.” She describes the act as “heinous.” The wreath is placed there because she is not speaking at a rally against the fees.

In July 2010, O’Rourke concedes that she does not expect the party to be in power after the next general election. On RTÉ Radio‘s Today with Pat Kenny programme, she says the government is taking tough decisions to steer the country through the financial crisis and this will make it easy for the opposition. She says there is a general air of “crossness” within the Fianna Fáil party over their standing in the polls, but nobody is harboring leadership ambitions to challenge Brian Cowen.

In November 2010, O’Rourke says there is then more to unite her party and Fine Gael than to divide them. She points to the common approach of the two parties to Northern Ireland, Europe and the current financial crisis. In an address to the 1916–1921 Club in Dublin Castle, she says that most voters no longer defined themselves in terms of Civil War politics.

O’Rourke’s senior years lead her to often being referred to as the “Mammy of the Dáil.”

O’Rourke contests the 2011 Irish general election, but is defeated on the poll. She had been critical of former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, saying that he should have resigned after his infamous “congested” radio interview. She supports the attack on Cowen by her nephew, former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan Jnr, who says he is “disappointed” by Cowen’s performance and he had to provide the leadership when the Taoiseach did not.

As well as being a well-known politician, O’Rourke makes regular appearances in the media in a non-political capacity. She has been a contestant on RTÉ‘s reality series Celebrity Bainisteoir, as well as other shows such as Sex & Sensibility. She has guest presented Tonight with Vincent Browne.

In 2012, Just Mary: My Memoir is published. It wins the 2012 Irish Book Award in the “Listeners’ Choice” category.

O’Rourke comes from a strong political family, her father Patrick Lenihan serves as a TD for Longford–Westmeath from 1965 to 1970. Her brother Brian Lenihan is a senior government Minister and Tánaiste. Another brother, Paddy Lenihan, is a County Councillor in Roscommon, but resigns from Fianna Fáil in 1983 and becomes associated with Neil Blaney‘s Independent Fianna Fáil party. Two of her nephews, Brian Lenihan Jnr and Conor Lenihan, both sons of her brother Brian, serve as Ministers. Brian Lenihan Jnr is the Minister for Finance. Conor Lenihan is a Minister of State.

O’Rourke is widowed in January 2001, following the death of her husband, Enda. She has two sons. Aengus O’Rourke, her adopted son, runs for Athlone Town Council in 2009. The other son, Feargal O’Rourke, becomes Managing Partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers in Ireland in 2015 and is considered the “grand architect” of the Double Irish tax system, a major contributor to Ireland’s economic success in attracting U.S. multinationals to Ireland.


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Death of Patrick Hillery, Sixth President of Ireland

Patrick John Hillery, Irish politician and the sixth President of Ireland, dies in Glasnevin, Dublin, at the age of 84 on April 12, 2008, following a short illness. He serves two terms in the presidency and, though widely seen as a somewhat lacklustre President, is credited with bringing stability and dignity to the office. He also wins widespread admiration when it emerges that he has withstood political pressure from his own Fianna Fáil party during a political crisis in 1982.

Hillery is born in Spanish Point, County Clare on May 2, 1923. He is educated locally at Milltown Malbay National school before later attending Rockwell College. At third level he attends University College Dublin where he qualifies with a degree in medicine. Upon his conferral in 1947 he returns to his native town where he follows in his father’s footsteps as a doctor.

Hillery is first elected at the 1951 Irish general election as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) for Clare, and remains in Dáil Éireann until 1973. During this time he serves as Minister for Education (1959–1965), Minister for Industry and Commerce (1965–1966), Minister for Labour (1966–1969) and Minister for Foreign Affairs (1969–1973).

Following Ireland’s successful entry into the European Economic Community in 1973, Hillery is rewarded by becoming the first Irishman to serve on the European Commission, serving until 1976 when he becomes President. In 1976 the Fine GaelLabour Party National Coalition under Liam Cosgrave informs him that he is not being re-appointed to the Commission. He considers returning to medicine, however fate takes a turn when Minister for Defence Paddy Donegan launches a ferocious verbal attack on President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, calling him “a thundering disgrace” for referring anti-terrorist legislation to the courts to test its constitutionality. When a furious President Ó Dálaigh resigns, a deeply reluctant Hillery agrees to become the Fianna Fáil candidate for the presidency. Fine Gael and Labour decide it is unwise to put up a candidate in light of the row over Ó Dálaigh’s resignation. As a result, Hillery is elected unopposed, becoming President of Ireland on December 3, 1976.

When Hillery’s term of office ends in September 1983, he indicates that he does not intend to seek a second term, but he changes his mind when all three political parties plead with him to reconsider. He is returned for a further seven years without an electoral contest. After leaving office in 1990, he retires from politics.

Hillery’s two terms as president, from 1976 to 1990, end before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which sets terms for an end to violence in Northern Ireland. But he acts at crucial moments as an emollient influence on the republic’s policies toward the north, and sets a tone that helps pave the way for eventual peace.

Patrick Hillery dies on April 12, 2008 in his Dublin home following a short illness. His family agrees to a full state funeral for the former president. He is buried at St. Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton, near Dublin. In the graveside oration, Tánaiste Brian Cowen says Hillery was “A humble man of simple tastes, he has been variously described as honourable, decent, intelligent, courteous, warm and engaging. He was all of those things and more.”