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


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Birth of John Ford, Award Winning Irish American Film Director

John Ford, film director, is born as John Martin Feeney on February 1, 1894 at Cape Elizabeth, Maine. He is the fourth son among five sons and six daughters of Seán Feeney, Roman Catholic farmer and saloon-keeper, and Barbara ‘Abby’ Feeney (née Curran). His father had emigrated to the United States from Spiddal, County Galway, and his mother from Kilronan, Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands.

From an early age Ford has an interest in painting and sailing, and in July 1914 moves to California, where his older brother Francis is an actor with a small film company. Adopting the name ‘Jack Ford,’ he learns his trade as a filmmaker and acts in a number of silent pictures. Reveling in his Irish heritage, he makes his director’s debut with The Tornado (1917) and follows it with more than forty movies over the next six years. On July 3, 1920, he marries Mary McBryde Smith, a former officer in the army medical corps. They meet at a party thrown by the director Rex Ingram and have one son and one daughter.

In 1921 Ford visits Ireland for the first time and later claims to have travelled on the same boat that brought Michael Collins back from the treaty negotiations. He meets his relatives at Spiddal, falls in love with the countryside, and becomes a fervent Irish nationalist. It is later claimed that he brought over funds for his cousin Martin Feeney, a member of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column.

Returning to Hollywood, Ford becomes friends with the retired marshal Wyatt Earp and makes a number of commercially successful films, now as ‘John Ford’. In 1926 he directs The Shamrock Handicap, a horse-racing yarn partly set in Ireland. In 1928 he shoots Mother Machree, a movie about Irish emigration, starring Victor McLaglen, a regular collaborator. McLaglen also stars in Hangman’s House, made the same year, Ford’s first major movie about Ireland.

In 1934 Ford purchases a luxury yacht which he names the Araner after the Aran Islands. He also begins shooting The Informer, a film set in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence, and based on a short novel by Liam O’Flaherty. The picture is a major box office success and wins four Academy Awards, including Best Director. O’Flaherty is so impressed with the film that he dedicates his next book, Famine, to Ford.

In 1934 Ford visits Ireland for the second time, and approaches Seán O’Casey about directing a version of The Plough and the Stars. Released in 1936, the film stars Barry Fitzgerald as Fluther, but it is reedited by the studio, much to Ford’s fury, and is a commercial and critical flop.

Stagecoach, shot in 1938, is one of Ford’s masterpieces. It was a western starring his protégé, John Wayne, and marks the beginning of his golden decade. In 1940 and 1941 he wins Best Director Oscars successively for The Grapes of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley. With American entry into World War II, he serves in the U.S. Navy, and makes important documentaries such as The Battle of Midway (1942).

In 1952 Ford returns to Ireland to film The Quiet Man, starring Wayne, McLaglen, and Maureen O’Hara. Shot at Ashford Castle, County Mayo, the picture becomes one of the most popular Irish films of all time. He is immensely proud of the work and is in tears leaving Ireland. The following year he makes Mogambo, with Clark Gable, Grace Kelly and a young English actor, Donald Sinden, who later recalls that Ford berated him personally for all the problems of Ireland from the time of William of Orange. Ford’s strong sense of Irishness is central to his character and is crucial for any understanding of his work. Back in Ireland in 1956, he shoots The Rising of the Moon, a portmanteau film for which he takes no salary, starring Tyrone Power, Cyril Cusack, and Noel Purcell. A minor film, it makes no impact at the box office.

Two of Ford’s finest movies are made in his later years. The Searchers (1956) is a powerful study of vengeance, while The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is an elegiac revisionist western which concludes with the famous line, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Struck with cancer in his final years, Ford dies on August 31, 1973 at his home in Palm Desert, California, and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City. His will disinherits his son, Michael Patrick Roper, and leaves everything to his wife, daughter, and grandchildren.

When asked to name the finest American directors, Orson Welles replies simply, “John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford.” An alcoholic, Ford is a difficult and often tyrannical director, but he makes films of extraordinary power and vision. He ranks as one of the greatest film-makers of the twentieth century. As Frank Capra concludes, “John is half-tyrant, half-revolutionary; half-saint, half-Satan; half-possible, half-impossible; half-genius, half-Irish.”

(From: “Ford, John,” contributed by Patrick M. Geoghegan, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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The Pickardstown Ambush

The Pickardstown Ambush, an action by a combined Waterford force against a British Army patrol at Pickardstown, takes place near the town of Tramore, County Waterford on the night of January 7, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. The ambush follows a feint attack on the Tramore Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks.

The ambush is conceived by Irish Republican Army (IRA) East Waterford Officer Commanding (OC) Paddy Paul, who gathers volunteers from the local Dunhill and Waterford City units of his command, as well as West Waterford OC Pax Whelan and West Waterford flying column OC George Lennon. This makes for a total of fifty men although several are armed only with shotguns.

An attack is made on the RIC barracks in the town, and the British military garrison in Waterford quickly dispatches forty troops in four Crossley tenders. However the ambush has been badly planned with the result that the British troops are able to make a determined counterattack. Two IRA volunteers, Thomas O’Brien and Michael McGrath, are reportedly taken away and shot by members of the Devon Regiment. Two other volunteers are wounded. One British soldier and one Black and Tan are wounded.

A memorial is later erected on the ambush site. In later years, local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) fields are named after the two dead IRA men.

(Pictured: Members of the Irish Republican Army East Waterford Brigade)


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The Derryard Checkpoint Attack

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacks a British Army permanent vehicle checkpoint complex manned by the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) near the Northern IrelandRepublic of Ireland border at Derryard, north of Rosslea, County Fermanagh, on December 13, 1989.

According to journalist Ed Moloney, the IRA Army Council, suspecting a great deal of infiltration by double agents at the grassroots level of the IRA, decide to form an experimental flying column (rather than the usual active service unit) to mount a large-scale operation against a permanent vehicle checkpoint along the border. It hopes that this will prevent any information leak that might result in another fiasco like the Loughgall Ambush of 1987.

Moloney maintains that the planning is in the charge of Thomas Murphy, alleged leader of the South Armagh Brigade, and that the raid is to be led by East Tyrone Brigade member Michael “Pete” Ryan. Journalist Ian Bruce instead claims that the IRA unit is led by an Irish citizen who had served in the Parachute Regiment, citing intelligence sources. The column is made up of about 20 experienced IRA volunteers from throughout Northern Ireland, eleven of whom are to carry out the attack itself. Bruce reports that IRA members from County Monaghan, supported by local Fermanagh militants, carry out the raid.

The target is a permanent vehicle checkpoint at Derryard. Described as a “mini base,” it includes an accommodation block and defensive sangars. It is manned by eight soldiers of the 1st Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers and a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer. The eleven IRA members are driven to the checkpoint in the back of a makeshift Bedford armoured dumper truck. They are armed with 7.62mm AK-47s, 5.56mm ArmaLite AR-18s, two 12.7mm DShK heavy machine-guns, RPG-7s, different kinds of grenades, and a LPO-50 flamethrower. The heavy machine guns and the flamethrower are mounted on a tripod on the lorry bed. To assure widespread destruction, the column plan to detonate a van bomb after the initial assault.

The attack takes place shortly after 4:00 PM. IRA members seal off roads leading to the checkpoint in an attempt to prevent civilians from getting caught up in the attack. The truck is driven from the border and halted at the checkpoint. As Private James Houston begins to check the back of the truck, the IRA open fire with assault rifles and throw grenades into the compound. Two RPG-7s are fired at the observation sangar while the flamethrower stream is directed at the command sangar. Heavy shooting continues as the truck reverses and smashes through the gates of the compound. At least three IRA volunteers dismount inside the checkpoint and spray the portacabins with gunfire and the flamethrower’s fire stream, while throwing grenades and nail bombs. The defenders are forced to seek shelter in sangars, from where they fire into their own base. A farmer some distance away sees an orange ball of flames and hears gunfire ‘raking the fields.’ As the truck drives out of the now wrecked compound, a red transit van loaded with a 400-lb. (182 kg) bomb is driven inside and set to detonate once the IRA unit has made its escape. However, only the booster charge explodes.

The attack is finally repulsed by a four-men Borderers section from the checkpoint that is patrolling nearby, with the support of a Westland Wessex helicopter. The patrol fires more than 100 rounds at the IRA unit. The Wessex receives gunfire and is forced to take evasive action. The IRA column, at risk of being surrounded, flee toward the border in the armoured truck. It is found abandoned at the border with a 460-lb. (210 kg) bomb on board.

Two soldiers are killed in the attack: Private James Houston (22) from England and Lance-Corporal Michael Patterson (21) from Scotland. Corporal Whitelaw is badly wounded by shrapnel and later airlifted for treatment. Another soldier suffers minor injuries.

There is outrage in Westminster and among unionists, as a supposedly well-defended border post has been overrun by the IRA and two soldiers killed. On the other hand, according to Moloney, there is also some disappointment among republicans. Despite the positive propaganda effect, the quick and strong reaction from the outpost’s defenders convince some high-ranking IRA members that the Army Council has been infiltrated by a mole.

KOSB officers and security sources believe that the IRA unit involved was not locally recruited, putting the blame instead on IRA members from Clogher, County Tyrone and South Monaghan in the Republic. The same sources say that the attack was executed “in true backside-or-bust Para style.”

After the action of Derryard, the British Army in Northern ireland are issued the French designed Luchaire 40mm rifle grenade, fitted on the muzzle of the SA80 rifle. This gives the troops a lightweight armour piercing capability to deal with the threat imposed by improvised armoured vehicles. Permanent checkpoints along the border are also fitted with general-purpose machine guns. From 1990 until the end of the IRA campaign in 1997, there are a number of further bloodless, small-scale attacks against permanent vehicle checkpoints along this part of the border using automatic weapons, particularly in County Fermanagh and against a military outpost at Aughnacloy, County Tyrone.

Two soldiers, Corporal Robert Duncan and Lance Corporal Ian Harvey, are bestowed the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), while Lance-Corporal Patterson receives a posthumous mention in dispatches for his actions during the attack. The checkpoint is dismantled in March 1991, as part of a major border security re-arrangement codenamed Operation Mutilate.

(Pictured: Republican memorial at Carragunt bridge, on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, often crossed by Provisional IRA forces during the Troubles to attack British targets inside County Fermanagh)


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The Ballygawley Barracks Attack

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) launches an assault on the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) barracks in Ballygawley, County Tyrone, on December 7, 1985. Two RUC officers are shot dead and the barracks are raked with gunfire before being completely destroyed by a bomb, which wounds an additional three officers.

In 1985, Patrick Kelly becomes leader of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade. He, along with East Tyrone Brigade members Jim Lynagh and Pádraig McKearney, advocate using flying columns to destroy isolated British Army and RUC bases and stop them from being repaired. The goal is to create and hold “liberated zones” under IRA control that will be gradually enlarged. Although IRA Chief of Staff Kevin McKenna turns down the flying column idea, IRA Northern Command approves the plan to destroy bases and prevent their repair. In 1985 alone there are 44 such attacks. Among the most devastating is the mortar attack on Newry RUC barracks in March.

The Ballygawley attack involves two IRA active service units from the East Tyrone Brigade: an armed assault unit and a bomb unit. There are also several teams of IRA observers in the area. The assault team is armed with AK-47 and AR-15 rifles, while the bombing unit is responsible for planting and detonating a 100-pound (45 kg) bomb. Both units are commanded by Patrick Kelly.

The assault is launched on Saturday, December 7, at 6:55 PM, when the handful of RUC officers manning the base are getting ready to hand over to the next shift. In the first burst of automatic fire, the two guards at the entrance are killed, Constable George Gilliland and Reserve Constable William Clements. Constable Clements’s Ruger Security-Six revolver is taken by the attackers. The base is then raked with gunfire. Another three RUC officers who are inside run out to the back of the base, where they hope the walls might offer some cover. IRA members go into the building and take documents and weapons. The bomb is placed inside and, upon detonation, destroys the entire base, injuring three officers.

The republican IRIS Magazine (#11, October 1987) describes the attack as follows:

“One volunteer took up a position close to the front gate. Two RUC men opened the gate and the volunteer calmly stepped forward, shooting them both dead at point blank range. Volunteers firing AK-47 and Armalite rifles moved into the barracks, raking it with gunfire. Having secured the building they planted a 100-lb. bomb inside. The bomb exploded, totally destroying the building after the volunteers had withdrawn to safety.”

The first British Army unit to arrive at the base in the wake of the attack is X Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

The attack is one of the Provisional IRA’s biggest during this period. Twelve days later the same IRA brigade mortar the RUC station at Castlederg badly damaging the base and injuring four people. The Ballygawley base is rebuilt by the Royal Engineers in 1986.

The East Tyrone IRA launches two similar attacks in the following years: the successful attack on the Birches base in 1986, and the ill-fated attack on the Loughgall base in 1987, in which eight IRA members are killed. Ballygawley itself had seen conflict before with the Ballygawley land mine attack in 1983, and would see more violence in 1988 with the Ballygawley bus bombing, that cost the lives of eight British soldiers. The gun taken from Constable Clements is found by security forces after the SAS ambush at Loughgall.

The RUC base at Ballygawley is once again targeted by the East Tyrone Brigade on December 7, 1992, in what becomes the debut of the IRA’s brand new Mark-15 improvised mortar, better known as “Barrack Buster.” Another attack with a horizontal mortar occurs on April 30, 1993, when a RUC mobile patrol leaving Ballygawley compound is targeted. According to an IRA statement, the projectile misses one of the vehicles, hits a wall and explodes.

(Pictured: A Provisional Irish Republican Army badge, with the phoenix symbolising the origins of the Provisional IRA)


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Birth of Joseph Campbell, Poet & Lyricist

Joseph Campbell, Irish poet and lyricist, is born in Belfast on July 15, 1879. He writes under the Gaelic form of his name Seosamh Mac Cathmhaoil (also Seosamh MacCathmhaoil), as Campbell is a common anglicisation of the old Irish name MacCathmhaoil. He is now remembered best for words he supplied to traditional airs, such as “My Lagan Love” and “Gartan Mother’s Lullaby.” His verse is also set to music by Arnold Bax and Ivor Gurney.

Campbell is born into a Catholic and Irish nationalist family from County Down. He is educated at St. Malachy’s College, Belfast. After working for his father he teaches for a while. He travels to Dublin in 1902, meeting leading nationalist figures. His literary activities begin with songs, as a collector in Antrim, County Antrim and working with the composer Herbert Hughes. He is then a founder of the Ulster Literary Theatre in 1904. He contributes a play, The Little Cowherd of Slainge, and several articles to its journal Uladh edited by Bulmer Hobson. The Little Cowherd of Slainge is performed by the Ulster Literary Theatre at the Clarence Place Hall in Belfast on May 4, 1905, along with Lewis Purcell’s The Enthusiast.

Campbell moves to Dublin in 1905 and, failing to find work, moves to London the following year where he is involved in Irish literary activities while working as a teacher. He marries Nancy Maude in 1910, and they move shortly thereafter to Dublin, and then later to County Wicklow. His play Judgement is performed at the Abbey Theatre in April 1912.

Campbell takes part as a supporter in the Easter Rising of 1916, doing rescue work. The following year he publishes a translation from Irish of the short stories of Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the Rising.

Campbell becomes a Sinn Féin Councillor in Wicklow in 1921. Later in the Irish Civil War he is on the Republican side, and is interned in 1922-23. His marriage breaks up, and he emigrates to the United States in 1925 where he settles in New York City. He lectures at Fordham University, and works in academic Irish studies, founding the University’s School of Irish Studies in 1928, which lasts four years. He is the editor of The Irish Review (1934), a short lived “magazine of Irish expression.” The business manager is George Lennon, former Officer Commanding of the County Waterford Flying Column during the Irish War of Independence. The managing editor is Lennon’s brother-in-law, George H. Sherwood.

Campbell returns to Ireland in 1939, settling at Glencree, County Wicklow. He dies at Lacken Daragh, Enniskerry, County Wicklow on June 6, 1944.


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Birth of Gilbert Potter, District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary

Gilbert Norman Potter, a District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary, is born in Dromahair, County Leitrim on July 10, 1887. He is executed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 27, 1921 in reprisal for the British execution of Irish republican Thomas Traynor.

Potter receives his commission as District Inspector on April 27, 1901 having completed his cadetship at the Depot, Phoenix Park, Dublin. His first assignment is to Castlepollard, County Westmeath. During the 1909 ITGWU strike in Cork, he is temporarily posted there from Dublin and is also involved in policing the August 14 marches in Portadown. Having had charge of No. 4 Company at the Depot, he is assigned to Cahir in 1912.

On April 23, 1921 District Inspector Potter is captured by the 3rd Tipperary Brigade, IRA, following the Hyland’s Cross Ambush. This occurs near Curraghcloney, close to the village of Ballylooby. The ambush party is initially made up of a combination of the 1st and 2nd Flying Columns 3rd Tipperary Brigade. This is the largest force assembled to date by the Tipperary IRA in anticipation of a major battle. However, the convoy of military lorries that is expected never materialises. Dan Breen and Con Moloney return to Battalion Headquarters, while Seán Hogan‘s Column withdraws northward in the direction of the Galtee Mountains.

As Dinny Lacey‘s No.1 Column prepares to leave towards the south, a small party of British soldiers accompanying two horse-drawn carts unexpectedly approaches from Clogheen and are immediately fired upon. Amid some confusion Lacey’s scattered men withdraw southwards towards the Knockmealdown Mountains. One British soldier, Frank Edward Conday, is fatally wounded and two others from the relieving party are wounded.

By chance, Potter, who is returning by car from police duties at Ballyporeen, drives into a section of the withdrawing No.1 Column. Although in civilian attire, he is recognised by one of the IRA Volunteers and taken prisoner. As part of a new strategy, he is held as a hostage for the safe release of Thomas Traynor, an IRA volunteer and father of ten young children, then under sentence of death at Mountjoy Gaol. The IRA offers to release Potter in exchange for Traynor’s release. Traynor is executed. Traynor has since been honoured by the Irish state as one of “The Forgotten Ten.”

The Column, under sporadic fire from soldiers, alerted at the nearby Clogheen barracks, follow the contours of the mountains to the village of Newcastle. Losing their pursuers, they stay for a period of time at the townland of Glasha. Here Potter is detained in an out-building of a farm which is regularly used by the IRA as a safe house. From there the party is guided into the Nire Valley by a contingent of local Waterford Volunteers and on to the Comeragh Mountains.

Accounts from Rathgormack, County Waterford suggest he is kept for at least one night at a nearby Ringfort before being taken down the hill to a field then owned by Power’s of Munsboro, where he meets his ultimate fate. At 7:00 PM, on April 27, following news of Traynor’s execution by hanging, he is shot to death, and hastily buried in a shallow grave on the banks of the River Clodiagh. A diary he kept during his period of captivity and some personal effects and farewell letters, are returned anonymously to his wife. It is the first confirmation she has that he has been killed. The artifacts are later lost when his son’s ship is torpedoed in 1942, during World War II.

(Pictured: Photo of District Inspector Gilbert Potter R.I.C. that appeared in the Press during his time in captivity)


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The Kilmeena Ambush

The Kilmeena ambush takes place at Kilmeena, County Mayo, on May 19, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence. The ambush ends in defeat for the local West Mayo Irish Republican Army (IRA), with six IRA volunteers killed and seven wounded. Two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and one Black and Tan are also killed in the action.

The IRA in west Mayo is relatively quiet until January 1921, when Michael Kilroy, described as “a puritanical and ascetic blacksmith” takes over command of the Brigade after Thomas Derrig is arrested by the Royal Irish Constabulary. Kilroy forms a relatively large “flying column” of 40 to 50 men to carry out attacks on Crown forces in the area. On May 6 they suffer a reverse at Islandeady, when a police patrol comes upon the IRA men cutting a road. Three volunteers are killed and two captured.

On May 18, 1921, the IRA decides to attack an RIC/Black and Tan convoy at Kilmeena. Two small-unit attacks are made on the RIC barracks in Newport and Westport to try to draw the police out of their well-defended barracks. One RIC man dies in these attacks.

At 3:00 AM the next day, May 19, the column of 41 IRA men take up position close to Knocknabola Bridge. The British convoy, traveling from Newport to Westport, consists of two Crossley lorries and one Ford touring car and a total of about thirty men. The convoy does not arrive until 3:00 PM and its arrival sparks a two-hour fire-fight. In the battle, one RIC man is wounded and later dies. The British regroup around the house of the parish priest, Father Conroy, and launch a counterattack.

Four IRA volunteers are killed. They are Seamus Mc Evilly, Thomas O’Donnell, Patrick Staunton and Sean Collins. Paddy Jordan of the Castlebar battalion is injured and dies later at Bricens Hospital in Dublin. Seven more IRA men are wounded.

The remainder of the column, carrying their wounded, flee over the mountains to Skerdagh, where they have safe houses. However, the police track them there and, in another exchange of fire, another IRA man is killed, Jim Brown from Newport, along with one RIC Constable and a Black and Tan.

The Black and Tans throw the dead and wounded IRA men onto the street outside the RIC barracks in nearby Westport, causing widespread revulsion among the local people and local police. The Marquis of Sligo, no friend of the republican guerrillas, visits the barracks to complain of their treatment of enemy dead. At the funerals of those killed, in Castlebar, the authorities allow only close family to attend and forbid the draping of the Irish tricolour over the coffins.

The local IRA blames their defeat in the ambush on the failure of an IRA unit from Westport to show up in time.

Kilroy’s column manages to get some revenge for the setback at Kilmeena the following month in an action at Carrowkennedy on June 3, where they kill eight policemen and capture sixteen.


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IRA Commander Seán Mac Eoin Captured at Mullingar

Seán Mac Eoin, Irish Republican Army (IRA) North Longford commander, is captured at Mullingar on March 1, 1921 and charged with the murder of a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) detective, dealing a severe blow to the IRA in that area.

Mac Eoin is born John Joseph McKeon on September 30, 1893 at Bunlahy, Granard, County Longford, the eldest son of Andrew McKeon and Catherine Treacy. After a national school education, he trains as a blacksmith at his father’s forge and, on his father’s death in February 1913, he takes over the running of the forge and the maintenance of the McKeon family. He moves to Kilinshley in the Ballinalee district of County Longford to set up a new forge.

Having joined the United Irish League in 1908, Mac Eoin’s Irish nationalist activities begin in earnest in 1913, when he joins the Clonbroney Company of the Irish Volunteers. Late that year he is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and joins the Granard circle of the organization.

Mac Eoin comes to prominence in the Irish War of Independence as leader of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column. In November 1920, he leads the Longford brigade in attacking Crown forces in Granard during one of the periodic government reprisals, forcing them to retreat to their barracks. On October 31, Inspector Philip St. John Howlett Kelleher of the RIC is shot dead in the Greville Arms Hotel in Granard. Members of the British Auxiliary Division set fire to parts of the town. The following day, Mac Eoin holds the village of Ballinalee situated on the Longford Road between Longford and Granard. They stand against superior British forces, forcing them to retreat and abandon their ammunition. In a separate attack on November 8, he leads his men against the RIC at Ballinalee. One constable is killed and two others are wounded.

On the afternoon of January 7, 1921, a joint RIC and British Army patrol consisting of ten policemen appears on Anne Martin’s street. According to Mac Eoin’s own testimony at his trial he is in the house in partial uniform, wearing Sam Browne belt and revolver with two Mills No. 4 bombs in his pocket. Owing to some females being in the house, he has to get out as to not endanger them. He steps out on the street and opens fire with his revolver. The leading file falls and the second file brings their rifles to the ready. He then throws a bomb, after which he sees that the entire force has cleared away, save the officer who was dead or dying on the street.

On February 2, 1921, the Longford IRA ambushes a force of the Auxiliaries on the road at Clonfin, using a mine it had planted. Two lorries are involved, the first blown up, and the second strafed by rapid rifle fire. Four auxiliaries and a driver are killed and eight wounded. The IRA volunteers capture 18 rifles, 20 revolvers and a Lewis gun. At the Clonfin Ambush, Mac Eoin orders his men to care for the wounded British, at the expense of captured weaponry, earning him both praise and criticism. He is admired by many within the IRA for leading practically the only effective column in the midlands.

Mac Eoin is captured at Mullingar railway station on March 1, 1921, imprisoned and sentenced to death for the murder of an RIC district inspector in the shooting at Anne Martin’s street in January 1921.

In June 1921, Henry Wilson, the British Chief of the General Staff (CIGS), is petitioned for clemency by Mac Eoin’s mother, his brother Jemmy, and the local Church of Ireland vicar, but passes on the appeals out of respect for the latter two individuals. Three auxiliaries had already given character references on his behalf after he had treated them chivalrously at the Clonfin Ambush in February 1921. However, Nevil Macready, British Commander-in-Chief, Ireland, confirms the death sentence describing Mac Eoin as “nothing more than a murderer.”

While imprisoned Mac Eoin is elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1921 Irish general election, as a TD for Longford–Westmeath. He is eventually released from prison, along with all other members of the Dáil, after Michael Collins threatens to break off treaty negotiations with the British government unless they are freed.

Mac Eoin joins the National Army and is appointed GOC Western Command in June 1922. His military career soars after the Irish Civil War. He is appointed GOC Curragh Training Camp in August 1925, Quartermaster General in March 1927, and Chief of Staff in February 1929.

Mac Eoin resigns from the Army in 1929, and is elected at a by-election to Dáil Éireann for the Leitrim–Sligo constituency, representing Cumann na nGaedheal. At the 1932 Irish general election, he returns to the constituency of Longford–Westmeath, and continues to serve the Longford area as TD until he is defeated at the 1965 Irish general election.

During a long political career Mac Eoin serves as Minister for Justice (February 1948 – March 1951) and Minister for Defence (March–June 1951) in the First Inter-Party Government, and again as Minister for Defence (June 1954 – March 1957) in the Second Inter-Party Government. He unsuccessfully stands twice as candidate for the office of President of Ireland, against Seán T. O’Kelly in 1945 and Éamon de Valera in 1959.

Mac Eoin retires from public life after the 1965 general election and dies in Dublin on July 7, 1973.


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Ballinalee Raid in Search of Seán Mac Eoin

The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) raid a cottage near Ballinalee, County Longford, on January 7, 1921 looking for Seán Mac Eoin. Mac Eoin opens fire from the cottage, killing District Inspector Thomas McGrath, wounding a constable, and escaping.

Mac Eoin is a soldier and eventual politician of the Fine Gael party. He is commonly referred to as the “Blacksmith of Ballinalee.” He is born John Joseph McKeon on September 30, 1893 at Bunlahy, Granard, County Longford, the eldest son of Andrew McKeon and Catherine Treacy. He joins the United Irish League in 1908. His Irish nationalist activities begin in earnest in 1913, when he joins the Clonbroney Company of the Irish Volunteers. Late that year he is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood and joins the Granard circle of the organization.

Mac Eoin comes to prominence in the Irish War of Independence as leader of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column. On November 4, 1920, his column holds the village of Ballinalee situated on the Longford Road between Longford and Granard. They stand against superior British forces, forcing them to retreat and abandon their ammunition. In a separate attack on November 8, he leads his men against the RIC at Ballinalee. An eighteen-year-old Constable Taylor is killed. Constable E. Shateford and two others are wounded. The story is that the small garrison sings “God Save the King” as they take up positions to return fire.

On the afternoon of January 7, 1921, a joint RIC and British Army patrol consisting of ten policemen led by an Inspector, with a security detachment of nine soldiers, appears on Anne Martin’s street. Mac Eoin’s own testimony at his trial, which is not contested by any parties present, states, “I was at the table writing when I was informed of the advance of the party. My account books were left in this house for safety. I was in partial uniform, wearing Sam Browne belt and revolver with two Mills No. 4 bombs in my pocket. Owing to some females being in the house, I had to get out as I could not endanger them by putting up a defence in the house, and as this Officer and Police Force had already signified to my sister and mother their intention to shoot me on sight, I decided to give them a run for their money. I stepped out on the street, about three paces directly in front of the oncoming force, and opened fire with my revolver. The leading file fell, and then the second file in the gateway brought their rifles to the ready. I then threw a bomb, and jumped back behind the porch to let it burst. When it had burst and the smoke had lifted, I saw that the whole force had cleared away, save the officer who was dead or dying on the street.” The casualties from this incident are District Inspector Thomas McGrath killed and a police constable wounded.

Mac Eoin is captured at Mullingar railway station in March 1921, imprisoned and sentenced to death for the murder of RIC District Inspector McGrath in the shooting at Anne Martin’s street in January 1921. Michael Collins organises a rescue attempt in June 1921. Six IRA Volunteers, led by Paddy Daly and Emmet Dalton, capture a British armoured car and, wearing British Army uniforms, gain access to Mountjoy Prison. However, Mac Eoin is not in the part of the jail they believed and, after some shooting, the party retreats.

Within days, Mac Eoin is elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1921 Irish general election, as a TD for Longford–Westmeath. He is eventually released from prison, along with all other members of the Dáil, after Collins threatens to break off treaty negotiations with the British government unless he is freed. It is rumoured that Sean Mac Eoin serves as the best man at Collins’ wedding.


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Death of Eoin O’Duffy, Activist, Soldier & Police Commissioner

Eoin O’Duffy, Irish nationalist political activist, soldier and police commissioner, dies in Dublin on November 30, 1944.

O’Duffy is born near Castleblayney, County Monaghan on January 28, 1890. Trained initially as an engineer, he later becomes an auctioneer. He becomes interested in Irish politics and joins Sinn Féin, later becoming a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

During the Irish War of Independence, O’Duffy commands the Monaghan Brigade and in February 1920 he successfully captures the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks at Ballytrain taking from it weapons and explosives. Also present at this victory is Ernie O’ Malley, who goes on to organize flying columns, and the socialist guerrilla fighter Peadar O’Donnell.

In the 1921 Irish general election, O’Duffy becomes TD for Monaghan. By 1922, he has been promoted to Chief of Staff of the IRA and is one of Michael Collins foremost supporters when he accepts the Anglo-Irish Treaty and fights in the Irish Civil War as a general of the Free State Army.

As commander of the 2nd Northern Division of the IRA, O’Duffy sees action in Belfast when defending Catholic ghettoes from attacks by Protestant pogromists. He also leads the Free State forces into Limerick city.

In September 1922, following the mutiny in Kildare by Civic Guard recruits, O’Duffy replaces Michael Staines as commissioner. Under him the police force is renamed the Garda Síochána, disarmed and is later merged with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP). His fervent Catholicism is greatly reflected in the ethos of the Garda Síochána.

In 1933, O’Duffy becomes associated with Cumann na nGaedheal by taking on the leadership of their security organization the Army Comrades Association, later to be known colloquially as the Blueshirts. This organization is to become a participant in many street brawls with anti-treaty sympathizers who try to break up pro-treaty political meetings. When the pro-treaty parties merge in 1933 to become Fine Gael, he is the party President for a short period of time.

It is believed that O’Duffy unsuccessfully encourages W. T. Cosgrave to consider a coup-de’etat in the event of Fianna Fáil winning the 1932 Irish general election. Cosgrave, in the event, puts his trust in a democracy when Fianna Fáil does, in fact, form a government, led by Éamon de Valera, with the help of the Labour Party.

After the 1933 Irish general election, which again sees de Valera in power, O’Duffy is dismissed from his post as Garda Commissioner on the grounds that due to his past political affiliations, he will be unable to carry out his duties without bias.

In Europe, the new phenomenon of fascism is gaining ground and O’Duffy, like many of his pro-treaty colleagues, is drawn to it. His Army Comrades Association is renamed the National Guard and they begin to take on many of the symbols of fascism such as the outstretched arm salute and the blue uniforms.

When O’Duffy plans a massed march for August 1933 in Dublin to commemorate the deaths of Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins, de Valera, fearing a coup, has it banned. Possibly de Valera is also testing the loyalty of the army and the Garda Síochána. In September the National Guard itself is banned although it reforms under the title The League of Youth.

In 1934 O’Duffy suddenly and inexplicably resigns as president of Fine Gael although it is known that many of its members are growing worried by his actions and statements. The Blueshirt movement begins to unravel at the seams. That same year he forms his own fascist movement, the National Corporate Party.

In 1936, supported by the Catholic Church in Ireland, O’Duffy leads 700 of his followers to Spain to help General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War against the republican government. They form part of the XV Bandera Irlandesa del Terico, a part of the Spanish Legion. The Bandera sees little or no action and are returned to Ireland in 1937.

Although O’Duffy has some low-level dalliance with the Nazis he never does regain any of his political influence. His health is on the decline and he dies on November 30, 1944. De Valera grants him a state funeral and he is interred in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.