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


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Birth of John MacBride

john-macbrideMajor John MacBride, Irish republican executed by the British for his participation in the 1916 Easter Rising, is born in Westport, County Mayo on May 7, 1865.

MacBride is born to Patrick MacBride, a shopkeeper and trader, and the former Honoria Gill. He is educated at the Christian Brothers School in Westport and at St. Malachy’s College in Belfast. He studies medicine but gives it up and begins working with a chemist’s firm in Dublin.

MacBride joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and is associated with Michael Cusack in the early days of the Gaelic Athletic Association. He also joins the Celtic Literary Society through which he comes to know Arthur Griffith, who is to remain a friend and influence throughout his life. Beginning in 1893, he is termed a “dangerous nationalist” by the British government. In 1896, he travels to the United States on behalf of the IRB. Upon his return he emigrates to South Africa.

In the Second Boer War MacBride is instrumental in the raising of the Irish Transvaal Brigade and leads it into action against the British. When organised resistance collapses, he and the surviving members cross the border into Mozambique. After the war he marries Maud Gonne and they have a son, Seán MacBride, who is also to make a name for himself in Irish Politics. The marriage, however, is not a success and they go their separate ways. MacBride keeps up his associations with Republican activists but does not become personally involved other than making the odd speech in support of Ireland’s Cause.

After returning permanently from Paris to Dublin in 1905, MacBride joins other Irish nationalists in preparing for an Insurrection. Because he is so well known to the British, the leaders think it wise to keep him outside their secret military group planning a Rising. As a result, he happens to find himself in the midst of the Rising without notice.

MacBride is in Dublin early on Easter Monday morning, April 24, to meet his brother, Dr. Anthony MacBride, who is arriving from Westport to be married two days later. As MacBride walks up Grafton Street he sees Thomas MacDonagh in uniform and leading his troops. He offers his services and is appointed second-in-command at the Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, which is occupied and held through Easter Week until the order to surrender is received. As he is dressed in civilian clothes rather than a military uniform, he could likely have escaped without too much difficulty but rather he decides to go with his comrades into captivity.

Tried by court martial under the Defence of the Realm Act, MacBride is found guilty and sentenced to death. He is executed on May 5, 1916, two days before his forty-eighth birthday. Facing the British firing squad, MacBride refuses to be blindfolded saying, “I have looked down the muzzles of too many guns in the South African war to fear death and now please carry out your sentence.”

John MacBride is buried in the cemetery at Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin.

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Birth of Patrick Nally, Athlete & Member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 100Patrick William Nally, a member of the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and well known Connacht athlete from Balla, County Mayo, is born on March 13, 1857.

Nally is the eldest son and one of six brothers, of a prosperous farmer of “advanced nationalist” views. From an early age he is a Fenian, and by the late 1870s is a leading organiser of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Nally is also present at the founding meeting in August 1879, of the Land League of Mayo, later becoming the Irish National Land League. He is elected a joint secretary. By 1880, he has become a member of the IRB’s Supreme Council.

In 1879, Michael Cusack, credited with founding the Gaelic Athletic Association, meets Nally, who had in 1877 attempted to start a nationalist athletics association but it never got off the ground. Cusack finds that Nally’s views on the influence of British landlordism on Irish athletics are the same as his.

Cusack recalls how both Nally and himself while walking through the Phoenix Park in Dublin and seeing only a handful of people playing sports in the park so depressed them that they agree it is time to “make an effort to preserve the physical strength of our race.” Nally organises a National Athletics Sports meeting in County Mayo in September 1879 which is a success, with Cusack organising a similar event which is open to ‘artisans’ in Dublin the following April.

In 1881, Nally is sentenced to ten years imprisonment in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, for what becomes known as the “Crossmolina Conspiracy,” where he is reportedly subjected to harsh treatment. He dies in prison on November 8, 1891. His funeral is organised by James Boland, with whom he had conspired in Manchester.

The resultant Nally GAA Club in Dublin would be closely associated with working class nationalists and republicans during the 1890s and beyond. One of the stands in Croke Park is named after Nally, and is unique for being the only stand in the stadium named after a person who had no connection to the Gaelic Athletic Association.


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Death of Michael Cusack, Founder of the GAA

michael-cusackMichael Cusack, teacher and founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association, dies in Dublin on November 25, 1906.

Cusack is born on the eastern fringe of the Burren to Irish speaking parents in Carran, County Clare on September 20, 1847, during the Great Famine. He becomes a national school teacher and in 1874, after teaching in various parts of Ireland, becomes a professor at Blackrock College, then known as the French College. In 1877, he establishes his own civil service academy, Cusack’s Academy, in Dublin which proves successful in preparing pupils for the civil service examinations.

A romantic nationalist, Cusack is also reputed to have been associated with the Fenian movement. He is active in the Gaelic revival, initially as a member of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language which is founded in 1876, and later the Gaelic League who in 1879 breaks away from the Society. Also in 1879, he meets Pat Nally, who is a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and a leading nationalist and athlete. He finds that he and Nally agree on the influence of British landlordism on Irish athletics.

He would recall how both Nally and himself, While walking through Phoenix Park in Dublin and seeing only a handful of people playing sports in the park so depresses Cusack and Nally that they agree it is time to “make an effort to preserve the physical strength of [their] race.” Nally organises a National Athletics Sports meeting in County Mayo in September 1879 which is a success, with Cusack organising a similar event which is open to artisans in Dublin the following April.

On November 1, 1884, Cusack together with Maurice Davin, of Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, calls a meeting in Hayes’ Commercial Hotel, Thurles, County Tipperary, and founds the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Davin is elected president and Cusack becomes its first secretary. Later, Archbishop Thomas William Croke, Archbishop of Cashel & Emly, Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell become patrons. Cusack also becomes involved in the Irish language movement, founding The Celtic Times, a weekly newspaper which focuses on “native games” and Irish culture.

Michael Cusack dies in Dublin on November 27, 1906 at the age of 59. He is buried in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery.


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First Edition of the “Irish Press” Published

irish-press-may-25-1995The first edition of the Irish Press, a Dublin daily newspaper founded by Éamon de Valera as a platform for Fianna Fáil, is published on September 5, 1931.

Irish Press Ltd. is officially registered on September 4, 1928, three years before the paper is first published, to create a newspaper independent of the existing media where the Independent Newspapers group is seen as supporting Cumann na nGaedheal/Fine Gael, and The Irish Times being pro-union, and with a mainly middle-class or Protestant readership.

The paper’s first issue is published on the eve of the 1931 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final between Cork and Kilkenny. Other newspapers do not cover GAA sports in any detail at the time. Margaret Pearse, the mother of Patrick and Willie Pearse, presses the button to start the printing presses. The initial aim of its publisher is to achieve a circulation of 100,000 which it quickly accomplishes. It goes on to list 200,000 subscribers at its peak.

The money to launch the Irish Press is raised in the United States during the Irish War of Independence by a bond drive to finance the First Dáil. Five million dollars is raised , however 60 percent of this money is left in various banks in New York City. No one knows why de Valera ordered the bulk of the money to be left in New York when he returned to Ireland in late 1920.

In 1927, as a result of legal action between the Irish Free State government and de Valera, a court in New York orders that the bond holders be paid back outstanding money due to them. However de Valera’s legal team has anticipated the ruling and has prepared for the outcome. A number of circulars are sent to the bond holders asking them to sign over their holdings to de Valera. The bond holders are paid 58 cents to the dollar. This money is then used as start up capital to launch the Irish Press. Following the 1933 Irish General Election, de Valera uses his Dáil Éireann majority to pass a measure allowing the bond holders to be paid the remaining 42 percent of the money still owed.

In December 1931, editor Frank Gallagher is prosecuted by an Irish Free State military tribunal for publishing articles alleging that Garda Síochána had mistreated the Anti-Treaty republicans of the Irish Free State government. This is facilitated by Amendment 17 of the Constitution of the Irish Free State and Gallagher is convicted and fined £50. An example of animosity from those who support Independent Newspapers and the Free State government is that the Irish Press is excluded from the special train which delivers newspapers from Dublin to the countryside. As a result, it is circulated throughout Ireland by a specially rented train.

The Irish Press sustains itself with its own resources until The Sunday Press is founded in 1949. In its heyday, the Irish Press has a number of first-rate reporters and columnists. One notable section, New Irish Writing is edited by David Marcus.

In the 1970s, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, Conor Cruise O’Brien, tries to use and amend The Emergency Powers Act and Section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, to censor coverage of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Irish Press editor, Tim Pat Coogan, publishes editorials attacking the Bill. The Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government tries to prosecute the Irish Press for its coverage of the maltreatment of republican prisoners by the Garda “Heavy Gang,” with the paper winning the case.

The Irish Press starts two further newspapers, the Evening Press (1954), and The Sunday Press. The Evening Press is aimed at an urban readership and achieves a daily circulation of 100,000. The new newspapers subsidise the Irish Press when its circulation sags. Its adoption of a tabloid format does not rescue its declining circulation.

The final issue of the Irish Press and Evening Press is on Thursday, May 25, 1995. The newspapers close because of a bizarre industrial dispute over the sacking of the group business editor, Colm Rapple. The group has not been in a healthy financial state for several years. When it eventually closes, with indebtedness of £20 million, 600 people lose their jobs.

(Pictured: Cover of last ever edition of the Irish Press from May 25, 1995)


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Peter O’Connor Sets World Long Jump Record

peter-oconnorPeter O’Connor, Irish track and field athlete, sets a long-standing world long jump record of 24′ 11-3/4″ in Dublin on August 5, 1901. He also wins two Olympic medals in the 1906 Intercalated Games.

Born in Millom, Cumberland, England on October 24, 1872, O’Connor grows up in Wicklow, County Wicklow. He joins the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in 1896. In 1899 he wins All-Ireland medals in long jump, high jump and hop, step and jump (triple jump). Over the next ten years he consistently beats British athletes in international competitions. The Amateur Athletic Association of England invites him to represent Britain in the 1900 Summer Olympics but he refused as he only wishes to represent Ireland.

As of June 1900, the world record for the long jump is held by Myer Prinstein of Syracuse University, at 24′ 7-1/4″. In 1900 and 1901, competing with the Irish Amateur Athletic Association (IAAA), a rival association to the GAA, O’Connor sets several unofficial world records in the long jump. He sets an officially recognised world record of 24′ 9″ at the Royal Dublin Society’s grounds in Dublin on May 27, 1901. On August 5, 1901 he jumps 24′ 11-3/4″ in Dublin. This is the first IAAF-recognised long jump world record. It causes a sensation at the time, being only a fraction short of the 25-foot barrier, and remains unbeaten for 20 years, a longevity surpassed only by Jesse Owens‘s 25-year record and Bob Beamon‘s 23-year record. It remains an Irish record for a remarkable 89 years.

In 1906 O’Connor and two other athletes, Con Leahy and John Daly, are entered for the Intercalated Games in Athens by the IAAA and GAA, representing Ireland. However, the rules of the games are changed so that only athletes nominated by National Olympic Committees are eligible. Ireland does not have an Olympic Committee, and the British Olympic Council claims the three. On registering for the Games, O’Connor and his fellow athletes find that they are listed as Great Britain, not Irish, team members.

In the long jump competition, O’Connor finally meets Myer Prinstein of the Irish American Athletic Club who is competing for the U.S. team and whose world record O’Connor had broken five years previously. The only judge for the competition is Matthew Halpin, who is manager of the American team. O’Connor protests, fearing bias, but is overruled. He continues to protest Halpin’s decisions through the remainder of the competition. When the distances are announced at the end of the competition, Prinstein is declared the winner, with O’Connor in Silver Medal position.

At the flag-raising ceremony, in protest of the flying of the Union Flag for his second place, O’Connor scales a flagpole in the middle of the field and waves the Irish flag, while the pole is guarded by Con Leahy.

In the hop, step and jump competition two days later, O’Connor beats his fellow countryman, Con Leahy, to win the Gold Medal. At 34 he is the oldest ever Gold Medal winner in this event. Prinstein, the champion in 1900 and 1904, did not medal.

O’Connor wins no more titles after 1906. He remains involved in athletics all his life. He is a founder member and first Vice-President of Waterford Athletic Club, and attends later Olympics both as judge and spectator. He practises as a solicitor in Waterford and is married with nine children. He dies in Waterford on November 9, 1957.


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The Crossbarry Ambush

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERADuring the Irish War of Independence, Tom Barry and the West Cork Flying Column of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) rout a superior force from the Essex Regiment of the British Army at Crossbarry, County Cork on March 19, 1921.

A force of one hundred IRA members under the leadership of Barry are involved in a major skirmish with up to 1,000 British troops at Crossbarry. English intelligence has determined that Barry’s West Cork Brigade is based near Crossbarry and plans a major encirclement and assault. Poor planning and timing ensures that the British forces get separated before attacking Barry’s men. Barry is a brilliant guerrilla fighter and strategist who directs an attack against an initial force of approximately 140 men, before he orders his men to break out.

Charlie Hurley, one of the Brigade commanders who is injured during the Upton train ambush, is staying in a house with a pro-republican family, where he is recuperating from serious wounds he had received at Upton a month earlier. When he realises that he is surrounded by the British forces, he flees the house, as Tom Barry comments in his book, to reduce the danger to those in the house. He is shot dead by the pursuing troops. Barry remarks that Hurley “went to meet his death like a true Irishman.” A ballad exists that commemorates him. In addition, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) grounds in Bandon, County Cork are named after him.

Reports as to casualties differ. The IRA claims that over thirty British are killed while official British figures are ten killed and six IRA men killed. Whatever the numbers, it is probably the largest single military engagement in the Irish War of Independence as the IRA knew major battles with British troops would be a disaster for them and rarely got involved in full frontal action. While the casualties may not seem that large, Crossbarry is a major morale victory for the IRA who had “defeated” a British force of over one thousand. Prime Minister David Lloyd George states that the Crossbarry and Kilmichael ambushes convinced him of the need for a truce and a treaty with the Irish rebels.

(Pictured: Crossbarry Ambush Memorial, Crossbarry, County Cork)


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Death of John Redmond, Politician & Barrister

john-edward-redmondJohn Edward Redmond, Irish nationalist politician, barrister, and Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, dies on March 6, 1918 in London, England. He is best known as leader of the moderate Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) from 1900 until his death. He is also leader of the paramilitary organisation the National Volunteers.

Redmond is born to an old prominent Catholic family in Kilrane, County Wexford on September 1, 1856. Several relatives are politicians. He takes over control of the minority IPP faction loyal to Charles Stewart Parnell after Parnell dies in 1891. He is a conciliatory politician who achieves the two main objectives of his political life: party unity and, in September 1914, the passing of the Irish Home Rule Act.

The Irish Home Rule Act grants limited self-government to Ireland, within the United Kingdom. However, implementation of Home Rule is suspended by the outbreak of the World War I. Redmond calls on the National Volunteers to join Irish regiments of the New British Army and support the British and Allied war effort to restore the “freedom of small nations” on the European continent, thereby to also ensure the implementation of Home Rule after a war that is expected to be of short duration. However, after the Easter Rising of 1916, Irish public opinion shifts in favour of militant republicanism and full Irish independence, resulting in his party losing its dominance in Irish politics.

In sharp contrast to Parnell, Redmond lacks charisma. He works well in small committees, but has little success in arousing large audiences. Parnell had always chosen the nominees to Parliament. Now they are selected by the local party organisations, giving Redmond numerous weak MPs over whom he has little control. He is an excellent representative of the old Ireland, but grows increasingly old-fashioned because he pays little attention to the new forces attracting younger Irishmen, such as Sinn Féin in politics, the Gaelic Athletic Association in sports, and the Gaelic League in cultural affairs.

Redmond never tries to understand the unionist forces emerging in Ulster. He is further weakened in 1914 by the formation of the Irish Volunteers by Sinn Féin members. His enthusiastic support for the British war effort alienates many Irish nationalists. His party has been increasingly hollowed out, and a major crisis, notably the Easter Rising, is enough to destroy it.

Redmond is increasingly eclipsed by ill-health after 1916. An operation in March 1918 to remove an intestinal obstruction appears to progress well initially, but he then suffers heart failure. He dies a few hours later at a London nursing home on March 6, 1918.

Condolences and expressions of sympathy are widely expressed. After a funeral service in Westminster Cathedral his remains are interred, as requested in a manner characteristic of the man, in the family vault at the old Knights Templars‘ chapel yard of Saint John’s Cemetery, Wexford, amongst his own people rather than in the traditional burial place for Irish statesmen and heroes in Glasnevin Cemetery. The small, neglected cemetery near the town centre is kept locked to the public. His vault, which has been in a dilapidated state, has been only partially restored by Wexford County Council.