seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Assassination of Tomás Mac Curtain

Tomas-mac-curtainTomás Mac Curtain, Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork, is assassinated in Cork, County Cork on March 20, 1920, which is also his 36th birthday.

Thomas Curtin is born at Ballyknockane, Mourne Abbey, County Cork, on March 20, 1884, the son of Patrick Curtin, a farmer, and Julia Sheehan. He attends Burnfort National School. In 1897 the family moves to Cork City, where he attends the North Monastery school.

Mac Curtain, as he later becomes known, is active in a number of cultural and political movements beginning around the turn of the 20th century. He joins the Blackpool, Cork branch of Conradh na Gaeilge, becoming its secretary in 1902. He has interests in music, poetry, history, archaeology and Irish history. He works in his early career as a clerk, and in his free time teaches Irish. In 1911 he joins Fianna Éireann, and is a member of the Irish Volunteers.

He meets Elizabeth Walsh (Eibhlís Breathnach) at a Gaelic League meeting and they marry on June 28, 1908. They have six children, five of whom survive into adulthood. The family lives over 40 Thomas Davis Street, where Mac Curtain runs a small clothing and rainwear factory.

In April 1916, at the outset of the Easter Rising, Mac Curtain commands a force of up to 1,000 men of the Irish Volunteers who assemble at various locations around County Cork. From the volunteers headquarters at Sheares Street in the city, Mac Curtain and his officers await orders from the volunteer leadership in Dublin but conflicting instructions and confusion prevail and as a result the Cork volunteers never enter the fray. A tense stand-off develops when British forces surround the volunteer hall and continued for a week until a negotiated agreement leads to the surrender of the volunteers’ arms to the then Lord Mayor of Cork Thomas Butterfield on the understanding that they will be returned at a later date. This does not happen however and Mac Curtain is jailed in Wakefield Prison, in the Frongoch internment camp in Wales, and in Reading Gaol. After the general amnesty of participants in the Rising 18 months later, Mac Curtain returns to active duty as a Commandant of what is now the Irish Republican Army.

By 1918 Mac Curtain is a brigade commander, the highest and most important rank in the IRA. During the Conscription Crisis of 1918, he actively encourages the hiring of the women of Cumann na mBan to cater for Volunteers. He is personally involved with Michael CollinsThe Squad that, along with a Cork battalion, attempt to assassinate Lord John French, whose car is missed as the convoy passes through the ambush positions. Despite the setback he remains brigadier of No.1 Cork when he is elected Lord Mayor. He is elected in the January 1920 council elections as the Sinn Féin councillor for NW Ward No. 3 of Cork, and is chosen by his fellow councillors to be the Lord Mayor. He begins a process of political reform within the city.

In January 1919, the Irish War of Independence starts and Mac Curtain becomes an officer in the IRA. On March 20, 1920, his 36th birthday, Mac Curtain is shot dead in front of his wife and son by a group of men with blackened faces, who are found to be members of the Auxilaries along with unknown members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) by the official inquest into the event. In the wake of the killing, which is in revenge for the shooting of a policeman, Mac Curtain’s house in Blackpool is ransacked.

The killing causes widespread public outrage. The coroner’s inquest passes a verdict of willful murder against British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and against certain members of the RIC. Michael Collins later orders his squad of assassins to uncover and assassinate the police officers involved in the attack. RIC District Inspector Oswald Swanzy, who had ordered the attack, is fatally shot, with Mac Curtain’s own revolver, while leaving a Protestant church in Lisburn, County Antrim on August 22, 1920, sparking what is described by Tim Pat Coogan as a “pogrom” against the Catholic residents of the town.

Tomás Mac Curtain is buried in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery, Cork.

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Death of Hunger Striker Thomas Patrick Ashe

Thomas Patrick Ashe, a member of the Gaelic League, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and a founding member of the Irish Volunteers, dies on September 25, 1917 at Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Dublin following a hunger strike.

Ashe is born in Lispole, County Kerry, on January 12, 1885. He enters De La Salle Training College, Waterford in 1905 and begins a teaching career as principal of Corduff National School, Lusk, County Dublin, in 1908.

Ashe plays a major part in the 1916 Easter Rising outside the capital city commanding the Fingal battalion of the Irish Volunteers. He is commandant of the 5th battalion of the Dublin brigade, a force of 60–70 men engaging British forces around north County Dublin during the rising. They are armed only with a few rounds, about a dozen service rifles, a dozen Mausers, and a dozen Martini carbines. Some of Ashe’s men are armed only with a shotgun against the well-equipped army regulars.

Ashe’s battalion wins a major victory in Ashbourne, County Meath, where they engage a much larger force. They capture a significant quantity of arms and up to twenty Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) vehicles. Eleven RIC members, including County Inspector Alexander Gray, and two volunteers are killed during the 5-1/2 hour battle. Twenty-four hours after the rising collapses, Ashe’s battalion surrenders on the orders of Patrick Pearse. On May 8, 1916, Ashe and Éamon de Valera are court-martialled and sentenced to death. The sentences are commuted to penal servitude for life. Ashe is imprisoned in Frongoch internment camp and Lewes Prison in Lewes, East Sussex, England.

De Valera, Ashe, and Thomas Hunter lead a prisoner hunger strike on May 28, 1917. With accounts of prison mistreatment appearing in the Irish press and mounting protests in Ireland, Ashe and the remaining prisoners are freed on June 18, 1917 by David Lloyd George as part of a general amnesty.

Upon his release, Ashe returns to Ireland and begins a series of speaking engagements. In August 1917, he is arrested and charged with sedition for a speech that he makes in Ballinalee, County Longford, where Michael Collins is also speaking. He is detained at the Curragh but is then transferred to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin. He is convicted and sentenced to two years hard labour. Ashe and other prisoners, including Fionán Lynch and Austin Stack, demand prisoner of war status.

On September 20, 1917, Ashe again goes on hunger strike. He dies at Mater Misericordiae Hospital on September 25, 1917, after being force fed by prison authorities. At the inquest into his death, the jury condemns the staff at the prison for the “inhuman and dangerous operation performed on the prisoner, and other acts of unfeeling and barbaric conduct.” His body lies in state at Dublin City Hall, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

The Ashe Memorial Hall built in 1928, housing the Kerry County Museum, in Tralee is named after him while Nelson Street, also in Tralee, is renamed Ashe Street. Ashe is a relative of Catherine Ashe, the paternal grandmother of American actor Gregory Peck, who emigrates to the United States in the 19th century.


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Birth of Bartholomew “Batt” O’Connor

Bartholomew “Batt” O’Connor, Cumann na nGaedheal and Fine Gael politician, is born in Brosna, County Kerry, on July 4, 1870. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for Dublin County from 1924 to 1935.

At seventeen O’Connor leaves school to become a stonemason. In October 1893, at the age of 23, he goes to Boston, where he stays five years. On his return to Ireland, he moves to Dublin, where he soon establishes himself as a “speculative builder” constructing houses in Anglesea Road, Dolphin’s Barn, Eglington Road, Brendan Road, and Donnybrook.

O’Connor joins the Gaelic League in 1900, through which he comes into contact with many of the future leaders of the Independence movement, including Tom Clarke and Seán Mac Diarmada. He is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in 1909 and enrolls in the Irish Volunteers in 1913, the same night as Éamon de Valera.

While not directly involved during the Easter Rising, O’Connor is recognised and arrested on his return to Dublin and sent to Kilmainham Gaol, then to Richmond Barracks, Wandsworth Prison, and finally to Frongoch internment camp, in North Wales.

On his release in September 1916, O’Connor re-establishes his business and takes up his political activities. He reconnects with members of the Keating Branch of the Gaelic League at 46 Parnell Square, and takes part in the re-organising of the fragmented IRB. He canvasses for by-elections in Kilkenny and Armagh on behalf of Sinn Féin candidates W. T. Cosgrave and Patrick McCartan.

O’Connor is involved with the revolutionary Sinn Féin party during the time of the First Dáil, handling money and hiding documents for Michael Collins. He purchases 76 Harcourt Street for Michael Collins, following a raid on the Sinn Féin Office at No. 6. There he installs a secret recess for private papers and means of escape through the skylight. When the recess escapes discovery following a raid, he goes on to construct hiding places in many of the other houses used by the movement. He is one of the shareholders of the National Land Bank which is set up in March 1920 at 68 Lower Leeson Street.

O’Connor plays a role in the “National Loan,” raised by Collins to fund the fledgling Dáil Éireann. The loan, which had been declared illegal, is lodged in the individual bank accounts of the trustees. The gold is kept under the floor of O’Connor’s house until 1922.

O’Connor takes the pro-Treaty side during the subsequent split over the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He is an unsuccessful candidate for Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election, in the Dublin County constituency.

After the death in November 1923 of Cumann na nGaedheal TD Michael Derham, O’Connor is the Cumann na nGaedheal candidate at the Dublin County by-election on March 19, 1924, when he is elected to the 4th Dáil ahead of Seán MacEntee. He retains his seat at the next four general elections, joining Fine Gael when Cumann na nGaedheal merges in 1933 with the National Centre Party and the Blueshirts. He serves as a Trustee of Cumann na nGaedheal.

After his death on February 7, 1935, the 1935 Dublin County by-election is won by Cecil Lavery of Fine Gael.


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Birth of Actor Arthur Shields

arthur-shieldsArthur Shields, Irish actor on television, stage, and film, is born on February 15, 1896, into an Irish Protestant family in Portobello, Dublin. Shields starts acting in the Abbey Theatre when he is 17 years old. He is the younger brother of Oscar-winning actor Barry Fitzgerald. They are the sons of Adolphus Shields, who is well-known in Dublin as a labor organizer although the 1901 census lists his occupation as “press reader,” and Fanny Sophia Sheilds.

An Irish nationalist, Shields fights in the Easter Rising of 1916. He is captured and held for six months in the Frongoch internment camp in Frongoch, Wales. His obituary in the San Mateo County Times of San Mateo, California, reports, “upon his release he was decorated by the Republic of Eire.”

Shields returns to the Abbey Theatre and has a varied career there from 1914-1939 as actor, assistant director, director, and stage manager. He appears in more than 300 roles in 350 plays while he is at the Abbey. Three of the productions he appears in are by Irish playwright Teresa DeevyThe Reapers, Temporal Powers, and Katie Roche. Three times he brings the Abbey Company to the United States.

In 1936, John Ford brings him to the United States to act in a film version of The Plough and the Stars in the role of Patrick Pearse. Some of his memorable roles are in Ford films. Shields portrays the Reverend Playfair in Ford’s The Quiet Man, opposite John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, and his brother, Barry Fitzgerald. He plays Dr. Laughlin in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon with Wayne and Joanne Dru, and appears yet again with Wayne and Barry Fitzgerald in Ford’s The Long Voyage Home. His other films include Little Nellie Kelly, The Keys of the Kingdom, The Fabulous Dorseys, Gallant Journey, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, Drums Along the Mohawk, Lady Godiva, National Velvet, and The River. He also makes television appearances including a 1958 role on Perry Mason as Dr. George Barnes in “The Case of the Screaming Woman.”

Shields dies of complications related to emphysema on April 27, 1970, in Santa Barbara, California. He is survived by his wife, actress Laurie Bailey, a daughter, a son, and four great-grandchildren. His body is cremated, with the ashes taken to Dublin, where a burial with full military honors takes place.


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Free State Government Purchases Copyright to “The Soldiers Song”

amhran-na-bhfiannThe Irish Free State government purchases the copyright of Peadar Kearney‘s The Soldiers Song on October 20, 1933, which becomes the Irish national anthem Amhrán na bhFiann. The song has three verses, but only the choral refrain is officially designated the national anthem.

A Soldiers’ Song is composed in 1907, with words by Peadar Kearney and music by Kearney and Patrick Heeney. The text is first published in Irish Freedom by Bulmer Hobson in 1912. It is used as a marching song by the Irish Volunteers and is sung by rebels in the General Post Office (GPO) during the Easter Rising of 1916. Its popularity increases among rebels held in Frongoch internment camp after the Rising, and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Irish War of Independence (1919–21). After the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, a large proportion of the IRA’s men and apparatus become the National Army. The Soldiers’ Song remains popular as an Army tune, and is played at many military functions.

The Free State does not initially adopt any official anthem. The delicate political state in the aftermath of the Irish Civil War provokes a desire to avoid controversy. Ex-Unionists continue to regard God Save the King as the national anthem, as it has been for the rest of the British Empire. W. T. Cosgrave, President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State expresses opposition to replacing The Soldiers’ Song, which is provisionally used within the State.

There is concern that the lack of an official anthem is giving Unionists an opportunity to persist with God Save the King. The Soldiers’ Song is widely if unofficially sung by nationalists. On July 12, 1926, the Executive Council of the Irish Free State decides to adopt it as the National Anthem, with Cosgrave the driving force in the decision. However, this decision is not publicised.

In 1928, the Army band establishes the practice of playing only the chorus of the song as the Anthem, because the longer version is discouraging audiences from singing along.

The anthem is played by Radio Éireann at closedown from its inception in 1926. Cinemas and theatres do so from 1932 until 1972. Peadar Kearney, who has received royalties from publishers of the text and music, issues legal proceedings for royalties from those now performing the anthem. He is joined by Michael Heeney, brother of Patrick Heeney, who had died in 1911. In 1934, the Department of Finance acquires the copyright of the song for the sum of £1,200. Copyright law changes in 1959, such that the government has to reacquire copyright in 1965, for £2,500. As per copyright law, the copyright expires in December 2012, following the 70th anniversary of Kearney’s death. In 2016, three Fianna Fáil senators introduce a private member’s bill intended to restore the state’s copyright in the anthem.


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The Battle of Ashbourne

fingal-brigade-iraAs the end of the 1916 Easter Rising becomes increasingly apparent and the rebels in Dublin are being squeezed harder and harder by the British forces, the rebels outside the city achieve a small victory on Friday, April 28, 1916, in what comes to be known as the Battle of Ashbourne.

The Battle of Ashbourne is a direct confrontation and gun battle between up to 70 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and about 37 Irish Volunteers, led by Thomas Ashe and Richard Mulcahy. It is one of the few engagements outside of Dublin city centre and is, in contrast to the main Rising in Dublin, a successful one.  It is also an example of the guerilla warfare that becomes a normal method of operation during the Irish War of Independence.

After the Volunteers battalion is mobilized on Easter Sunday, they are split into smaller groups, known as flying columns, and are sent north of Dublin city towards Ashbourne. Their mission is to destroy the railway line near Batterstown and disrupt the movement of British troops into the city. They set out by bicycles, mostly armed with shotguns. After raiding a number of barracks in the area, cutting communications, and collecting rifles, they reach the Cross of the Rath at Ashbourne.

There they are met with a barricade that has been hastily erected by the RIC members stationed in the barracks nearby. The RIC constables quickly surrender and are sent to the barracks to order a full surrender but they do not return. The Volunteers take up positions across the road while James O’Connor and Ashe try to break in the door. The constables begin firing from the upper windows of the building and a gun battle breaks out.

The fighting intensifies as RIC reinforcements arrive from Navan, Dunboyne, and Slane. Two Volunteers, John Crennigan and Thomas Rafferty, are fatally wounded. When District Inspector Gray is killed, the constables surrender and are taken prisoner. The Volunteers gather their arms and ammunition while Ashe warns the constables that they will be shot if they take up arms against the Irish people again.

In total, fourteen people are killed in the battle – two Volunteers, eight RIC members, two civilians driving the RIC cars, and two innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. Many more are injured.

The Volunteers’ victory is short lived, however, as in the early afternoon of the next day Ashe receives word of the surrender in Dublin. He demobilises the battalion and sends the men home. Many, including O’Connor, are arrested within days and interned in Wakefield Prison and Frongoch Internment Camp.

Ashe eventually spends time in jail for his role in the uprising and is jailed again in 1917. He begins a hunger strike on September 20, demanding POW status. Ashe dies after just five days on hunger strike from injuries received while being force-fed. The manner of his death outrages the Irish population.

As a side note, Thomas Ashe is a cousin of actor Gregory Peck.