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


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Birth of Michael Joseph O’Rahilly, Republican & Nationalist

Michael Joseph O’Rahilly, Irish republican and nationalist known as The O’Rahilly, is born in Ballylongford, County Kerry, on April 22, 1875.

O’Rahilly is educated in Clongowes Wood College. As an adult, he becomes a republican and a language enthusiast. He joins the Gaelic League and becomes a member of An Coiste Gnotha, its governing body. He is well travelled, spending at least a decade in the United States and in Europe before settling in Dublin.

O’Rahilly is a founding member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, which is organized to work for Irish independence and resist the proposed Home Rule. He serves as the IV Director of Arms. He personally directs the first major arming of the Irish Volunteers, the landing of 900 Mausers at the Howth gun-running on July 26, 1914.

O’Rahilly is not party to the plans for the Easter Rising, nor is he a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), but he is one of the main people who train the Irish Volunteers for the coming fight. The planners of the Rising go to great lengths to prevent those leaders of the Volunteers who are opposed to unprovoked, unilateral action from learning that a rising is imminent, including its Chief-of-Staff Eoin MacNeill, Bulmer Hobson, and O’Rahilly. When Hobson discovers that an insurrection is planned, he is kidnapped by the Military Council leadership.

Learning this, O’Rahilly goes to Patrick Pearse‘s school, Scoil Éanna, on Good Friday. He barges into Pearse’s study, brandishing his revolver as he announces “Whoever kidnaps me will have to be a quicker shot!” Pearse calms O’Rahilly, assuring him that Hobson is unharmed, and will be released after the rising begins.

O’Rahilly takes instructions from MacNeill and spends the night driving throughout the country, informing Volunteer leaders in Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, and Limerick that they are not to mobilise their forces for planned manoeuvres on Sunday.

Arriving home, O’Rahilly learns that the Rising is about to begin in Dublin on the next day, Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. Despite his efforts to prevent such action which he feels can only lead to defeat, he sets out to Liberty Hall to join Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas MacDonagh, Tom Clarke, Joseph Plunkett, Countess Markievicz, Seán Mac Diarmada, Eamonn Ceannt and their Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army troops. Arriving in his De Dion-Bouton motorcar, he gives one of the most quoted lines of the rising, “Well, I’ve helped to wind up the clock — I might as well hear it strike!”

O’Rahilly fights with the General Post Office (GPO) garrison during Easter Week. On Friday, April 28, with the GPO on fire, O’Rahilly volunteers to lead a party of men along a route to Williams and Woods, a factory on Great Britain Street, now Parnell Street. A British machine-gun at the intersection of Great Britain and Moore streets cuts him and several of the others down. Wounded and bleeding badly, O’Rahilly slumps into a doorway on Moore Street, but, hearing the English marking his position, makes a dash across the road to find shelter in Sackville Lane, now O’Rahilly Parade. He is wounded diagonally from shoulder to hip by sustained fire from the machine-gunner.

The specific timing of O’Rahilly’s death is very difficult to pin down but understanding can be gained from his final thoughts. Despite his obvious pain, he takes the time to write a message to his wife on the back of a letter he received from his son in the GPO. It is this last message to Nancy that artist Shane Cullen etches into his limestone and bronze sculpture. The text reads:

Written after I was shot. Darling Nancy I was shot leading a rush up Moore Street and took refuge in a doorway. While I was there I heard the men pointing out where I was and made a bolt for the laneway I am in now. I got more [than] one bullet I think. Tons and tons of love dearie to you and the boys and to Nell and Anna. It was a good fight anyhow. Please deliver this to Nannie O’ Rahilly, 40 Herbert Park, Dublin. Goodbye Darling.

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Birth of Irish Nationalist Joseph Mary Plunkett

joseph-mary-plunkettJoseph Mary Plunkett, Irish nationalist, poet, journalist, and a leader of the 1916 Easter Rising, is born at 26 Upper Fitzwilliam Street in Dublin on November 21, 1887.

Both his parents come from wealthy backgrounds, and his father, George Noble Plunkett, has been made a papal count. Despite being born into a life of privilege, young Joe Plunkett does not have an easy childhood.

Plunkett contracts tuberculosis at a young age. This is to be a lifelong burden. His mother is unwilling to believe his health is as bad as it is. He spends part of his youth in the warmer climates of the Mediterranean and North Africa. He spends time in Algiers where he studies Arabic literature and language and composes poetry in Arabic. He is educated at the Catholic University School and by the Jesuits at Belvedere College in Dublin and later at Stonyhurst College, in Lancashire, England, where he acquires some military knowledge from the Officers’ Training Corps. Throughout his life, Plunkett takes an active interest in Irish heritage and the Irish language, and also studies Esperanto. He is one of the founders of the Irish Esperanto League. He joins the Gaelic League and begins studying with Thomas MacDonagh, with whom he forms a lifelong friendship. The two are both poets with an interest in theatre, and both are early members of the Irish Volunteers, joining their provisional committee. Plunkett’s interest in Irish nationalism spreads throughout his family, notably to his younger brothers George and John, as well as his father, who allows his property in Kimmage, south Dublin, to be used as a training camp for young men who wish to escape conscription in Britain during the First World War. Men there are instead trained to fight for Ireland.

Sometime in 1915 Plunkett joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and soon after is sent to Germany to meet with Roger Casement, who is negotiating with the German government on behalf of Ireland. Casement’s role as emissary is self-appointed, and, as he is not a member of the IRB, the organisation’s leadership wishes to have one of their own contact Germany to negotiate German aid for an uprising the following year. Plunkett is seeking, but not limiting himself to, a shipment of arms. Casement, on the other hand, spends most of his energies recruiting Irish prisoners of war in Germany to form a brigade to fight instead for Ireland. Some nationalists in Ireland see this as a fruitless endeavour, and prefer to seek weapons. Plunkett successfully gets a promise of a German arms shipment to coincide with the rising.

Plunkett is one of the original members of the IRB Military Committee that is responsible for planning the Easter Rising, and it is largely his plan that is followed. Shortly before the rising is to begin, Plunkett is hospitalised following a turn for the worse in his health. He has an operation on his neck glands days before Easter and has to struggle out of bed to take part in what is to follow. Still bandaged, he takes his place in the General Post Office with several other of the rising’s leaders, including Patrick Pearse and Tom Clarke, though his health prevents him from being terribly active. His energetic aide-de-camp is Michael Collins.

Following the surrender Plunkett is held in Kilmainham Gaol, and faces a court-martial. Seven hours before his execution by firing squad at the age of 28, he is married in the prison chapel to his sweetheart Grace Gifford, a Protestant convert to Catholicism, whose sister, Muriel, had years before also converted and married his best friend Thomas MacDonagh, who is also executed for his role in the Easter Rising. Plunkett is executed by firing squad on May 4, 1916 and is the fourth and youngest signatory of the Proclamation of the Republic to be executed.

Plunkett’s brothers, George Oliver Plunkett and Jack Plunkett, join him in the Easter Rising and later become important Irish Republican Army (IRA) men. His father’s cousin, Horace Plunkett, is a Protestant and unionist who seeks to reconcile unionists and nationalists. Horace Plunkett’s home is burned down by the Anti-Treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War.

The main railway station in Waterford City is named after Plunkett as is Joseph Plunkett Tower in Ballymun. Plunkett barracks in the Curragh Camp, County Kildare is also named after him.


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Birth of Patrick Henry Pearse

patrick-henry-pearsePatrick Henry Pearse, teacher, barrister, poet, writer, nationalist, and political activist who is one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, is born in Dublin on November 10, 1879. Pearse’s father, James, is a stone worker who works on church buildings in Dublin and his mother, Margaret, comes from a family that has endured the Great Famine in 1846 and has left County Meath for Dublin. Here she brings up four children, Patrick being the second. Pearse has a comfortable childhood as his father is in constant work.

It is at school that Pearse first develops a love of Irish history. He is also taught the Irish language for the first time and while still a teenager, Patrick joins the Gaelic League, an organisation that wants to promote the Irish language and Irish literature. Pearse graduates with a law degree from the King’s Inns and, in 1901, he starts a BA course in modern languages but is called to the Bar in Dublin.

Regardless of his law training, Pearse is more interested in what he is learning about Ireland as a nation. All his knowledge about law has been based around the English language and he wants to know more about what he considers to be the rightful language of Ireland. This is not the Gaelic used in Dublin. Pearse has convinced himself that the real Irish language is based in Connaught and he teaches himself the dialect of the area. Connaught is also a region that has been severely affected by the Great Famine. Therefore, the number of people who speak what Pearse considers to be proper Gaelic have been greatly reduced. From 1903 to 1909, Pearse develops his involvement in the Gaelic League’s An Claidheamh Soluis (The Sword of Light) which seeks to expand the use of Gaelic in Irish life, and, in particular, literature.

By 1909, Pearse has developed some political leanings. He can not accept the impact England and all things English have on Ireland and the Irish people, but his concern is more for Irish culture rather than Irish politics. Pearse wants Irish history and culture taught as compulsory subjects in both Irish schools and colleges. He breaks with the Roman Catholic Church when its national college, St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, demotes courses in Irish history/culture to topics for trainee priests. He is keen for Maynooth to have compulsory Irish courses simply because priests then have a major influence in the areas where they work. However, all of Pearse’s protests fall on deaf ears. As a result, he founds his own school in Dublin, an “Irish-Ireland” school called St. Enda’s School.

Between 1909 and 1912, Pearse becomes more interested and involved in politics. Despite a limited income and the problems of keeping St. Edna’s on an even financial keel, Pearse launches his own newspaper called An Barr Buadh (The Trumpet of Victory). At this time the Home Rule issue has reared its head again. Sinn Féin and other republican movements have far more impact than Pearse, who seems to many to be no more than a political maverick. Many feel that Pearse is out of his depths in politics and that his input into Irish politics is no more than romanticism with an Irish slant.

By 1913, Pearse has become more depressed about the way Ireland is going under the rule of London. Those who know him, describe him as becoming more and more melancholy as the year progresses. Others believe that he is becoming more fanatical. He helps to organise the Irish Volunteers, the public face of the outlawed Irish Republican Brotherhood, before the outbreak of World War I. In 1914, he is sent on a fund-raising tour of America by Clan na Gael, an organisation that aids the Irish Republican Brotherhood. While the tour is a reasonable success financially, not many Americans are swayed by Pearse’s speeches.

By the time World War I starts, Pearse has taken an extreme political stance. He wants full Irish independence – not what the suspended Home Rule Bill of 1912 offers. He does not support the part Ireland plays in the war effort. He also splits the Irish Volunteers. He takes a small number of these men with him when John Redmond gives his agreement to suspend the Home Rule Bill until the war is over. By now, Pearse has become extreme. He publishes a pamphlet called The Murder Machine which is a severe condemnation of the Irish educational system. He also realises that with London totally focused on the war in Europe, the time is ripe to overthrow British rule in Ireland.

However, in this respect, Pearse is totally wrong. The young men who have volunteered to fight in the war have done so because they want to. Pearse has no mass support in Ireland whereas John Redmond has far more public support in the south. He also assumes incorrectly that all those in southern Ireland are completely against British rule. What Pearse fails to recognise, is that many people in Dublin itself rely on the British for work. They may not like this, but work brings in money regardless of where or who it comes from.

Those who participate in the Easter Uprising of 1916 are in the minority. Pearse decides to take command of the rebellion and he reads aloud the declaration of independence at the General Post Office. Pearse also is one of the signatories of “Poblacht na hÉireann” (To the People Of Ireland).

If Pearse expects the actions of the rebels in Dublin to spark off other uprisings in other Irish cities and towns, he is mistaken. In Dublin, the people of the city fail to offer the rebels any support. In fact, some Dubliners take the opportunity of the rebellion to loot the shops in Sackville Street. The Uprising is doomed from the start.

During the rebellion, Pearse says, “When we are all wiped out, people will blame us for everything, condemn us…..(but) in a few years they will see the meaning of what we tried to do.” Ironically, he is correct in this assessment.

On Friday, April 28, 1916, Pearse surrenders to the British army. By the following day all the rebels have surrendered. As they are paraded through the streets of Dublin before going to Kilmainham Gaol, they are jeered and verbally abused by Dubliners who have seen parts of their city destroyed. They blame Pearse and his followers rather than the British.

At Kilmainham Gaol, Pearse is charged with treason by a military court and sentenced to death. On May 16, Pearse is shot by firing squad. Eventually fourteen other rebel leaders are also executed by firing squad. Pearse’s body, and those of the other leaders, are thrown into a pit without a coffin or a burial service. Ironically, it is in death that Pearse finds real fame.

No one knows the fate of the rebel leaders until after the executions. Many in Ireland are horrified at the way they have been treated. If Pearse had not received national support during his life, his movement certainly received it after his death. Pearse had written that he wanted his fame and deeds to “live after me.” In death, Patrick Pearse is known as the “First President of Ireland” and Irish history and culture become part of the educational system after 1922.


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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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Reopening of General Post Office, Dublin

general-post-officeThe restored General Post Office, Dublin, which had been destroyed during the 1916 Easter Rising, is opened by President W. T. Cosgrave on July 11, 1929.

The General Post Office (GPO), is the headquarters of the Irish postal service. The offices are first located at College Green, but in August 1814, construction of a purpose-built headquarters begins. The building on Sackville Street is completed in January 1818 at a cost of £50,000.

According to An Post “The statues on the roof are of Hibernia, a classical representation in female form of the island of Ireland, with Fidelity to one side and Mercury, the messenger of the gods, to the other.”

Five members of the Provisional GovernmentPatrick Pearse, James Connolly, Tom Clarke, Seán MacDiarmada, and Joseph Plunkett — are located at the GPO during the Easter Rising in a 350-strong garrison which also includes Cumann na mBan and Irish Citizen Army members. James Connolly is in charge of the defence of the GPO and directs operations. The GPO garrison barricades surrounding streets and occupies adjoining buildings.

On Monday afternoon the garrison repulses a cavalry attack while, with the breakdown of law and order, many of the stores in Sackville Street are looted. From Wednesday, the GPO and other buildings in Sackville Street come under artillery fire, mostly from the Helga gunboat at anchor in the River Liffey. Connolly believes the British will not use artillery in city areas. By Friday night the GPO is on fire, at which point it is evacuated.

At a Dublin Corporation meeting in 1884 a motion is called to change the name of Sackville Street to O’Connell Street. After forty years of argument, it is changed to O’Connell Street in May 1924.


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Executions of Seán MacDiarmada & James Connolly

macdiarmada-connollyThe British army executes Seán MacDiarmada and James Connolly, the last of the Easter Rising leaders to be executed in Dublin, in the Stonebreaker’s Yard at Kilmainham Gaol on May 12, 1916.

Seán MacDiarmada is born in 1884 in Leitrim. He emigrates to Glasgow in 1900 and from there to Belfast in 1902. A member of the Gaelic League, he is acquainted with Bulmer Hobson. He joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in 1906 while still in Belfast, transferring to Dublin in 1908 where he assumes managerial responsibility for the IRB newspaper Irish Freedom in 1910. Although MacDiarmada is afflicted with polio in 1912, he is appointed as a member of the provisional committee of Irish Volunteers from 1913, and is subsequently drafted onto the military committee of the IRB in 1915. During the Rising, MacDiarmada serves in the General Post Office (GPO). Following the surrender, MacDiarmada nearly escapes execution by blending in with the large body of prisoners. He is eventually recognised by Daniel Hoey of G Division and faces a court-martial on May 9.

James Connolly is born in Edinburgh in 1868. Connolly is first introduced to Ireland as a member of the British Army. Despite returning to Scotland, the strong Irish presence in Edinburgh stimulates Connolly’s growing interest in Irish politics in the mid-1890s, leading to his emigration to Dublin in 1896 where he founds the Irish Socialist Republican Party. He spends much of the first decade of the twentieth century in America. He then returns to Ireland to campaign for worker’s rights with James Larkin. A firm believer in the perils of sectarian division, Connolly campaigns tirelessly against religious bigotry. In 1913, Connolly is one of the founders of the Irish Citizen Army. During the Easter Rising he is appointed Commandant-General of the Dublin forces, leading the group that occupies the General Post Office.

The treatment accorded to Connolly is particularly despicable. Crippled by an infected wound in the ankle, he is carried to Kilmainham Gaol, tied to a chair, and shot. As the men are loading their rifles, Connolly forgives the men of the army firing squad for their actions. Shaken by their distasteful task, a ragged volley of shots resound from their rifles. He is the last of the leaders to be executed.


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Executions of Èamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, Seán Heuston, & Con Colbert

colbert-ceannt-mallin-heustonIrish patriots Èamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, Seán Heuston, and Cornelius “Con” Colbert are executed by firing squad in the Stonebreakers Yard at Kilmainham Gaol on May 8, 1916, as the executions following the 1916 Easter Rising continue.

Éamonn Ceannt, one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, is born in Ballymoe, Glenamaddy in County Galway in 1881. Prior to the Rising, Ceannt is an employee of the Dublin Corporation. He is a co-founder of the Irish Volunteers, partaking in the successful Howth gun-running operation of 1914. His involvement in republican activities is complemented by his interest in Irish culture, specifically Irish language and history, although he is also an accomplished uilleann piper. Ceannt is appointed Director of Communications of the Provisional Government and is Commandant of the Fourth Battalion of the Irish Volunteers, who are stationed at the South Dublin Union, now the site of St. James’ Hospital. Ceannt has about 100 men with him, including his second-in-command Cathal Brugha, and W.T. Cosgrave who goes on later to become Taoiseach. Ceannt and his men at the South Dublin Union take part in some of the fiercest fighting in the rebellion and hold out against far superior numbers of British troops.

Michael Mallin, a silk weaver by trade, is born in Dublin on December 1, 1874. Mallin is the Chief of Staff of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), second in command only to James Connolly. He trains and drills the ICA, and is the Commandant of the St. Stephen’s Green Royal College of Surgeons garrison during the Rising. Countess Markievicz is his second in command. This location sees less action than some of the other sites chosen by the rebels because the British concentrate their efforts on the most strategically important targets such as the General Post Office (GPO) and Four Courts. Mallin surrenders on April 30.

Seán Heuston, born in Dublin on February 21, 1891, is responsible for the organisation of Fianna Éireann in Limerick. Along with Con Colbert, Heuston is involved in the education of the schoolboys at Scoil Éanna, organising drill and musketry exercises. Heuston is the Officer Commanding of the Volunteers in the Mendicity Institution on the south side of Dublin. With 26 Volunteers under his command, they hold their position for two days. With his position becoming untenable against considerable numbers, and the building almost completely surrounded, Heuston sends a dispatch to Connolly informing him of their position. It is soon after sending this dispatch that Heuston decides to surrender. Heuston Railway Station in Dublin is named after him.

Con Colbert is born on October 19, 1888, at Monalena in Limerick, and is one of the younger generation of Irish republicans who take part in the Easter Rising. Prior to the Easter Rising he is an active member of the republican movement. He is one of the founding members of Fianna Éireann. A dedicated pioneer, Colbert is known not to drink or smoke. During the Rising, Colbert is the commander of a group of Volunteers stationed at Watkin’s Brewery on Ardee Street, and later at Jameson’s Distillery on Marrowbone Lane. They hold their position until receiving the order to surrender from Patrick Pearse.