seamus dubhghaill

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

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Assassination of Senator Billy Fox

senator-billy-foxBilly Fox, Protestant Irish politician and a Fine Gael member of Dáil Éireann from 1969 to 1973, and of Seanad Éireann from 1973 until his death, is assassinated on March 12, 1974 by Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen who are carrying out a raid on his girlfriend’s farmhouse. Five members of the Provisional IRA are convicted of involvement in his murder.

Late on the night of Monday, March 11, 1974, about a dozen gunmen arrive at the home of Fox’s girlfriend, Marjorie Coulson. She lives there with her parents and brother, and Fox regularly visits on Monday evenings. The farmhouse is in the rural townland of Tircooney in County Monaghan, near the border with Northern Ireland. The gunmen search the farmhouse and demand the occupants hand over weapons. Shortly after midnight, as this is taking place, Fox drives down the laneway and is stopped by some of the gunmen who are outside. He runs, but is shot and killed by a single gunshot through the upper torso. The gunmen then order everyone out of the house, set it on fire, and escape.

The next day, the Ulster Freedom Fighters claim that it had killed Fox because he had links to the Provisional IRA. The IRA issues a statement saying that it is not involved. However, shortly after the shooting, five men from County Monaghan are charged with Fox’s murder and IRA membership. They are convicted in May 1974 and sentenced to penal servitude for life. One of those convicted tells the court they had raided the farm because they received a tip-off that Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) weapons were being stored there. He says there was an agreement that no shots were to be fired. His understanding is that Fox had taken some of the men by surprise and they had shot to wound, not recognizing him.

It is reported that the tip-off had come from another local family and was the result of a grudge. IRA members are already suspicious that the UVF is receiving local help, following an incident in November 1973. Loyalist gunmen had bombed a house at nearby Legnakelly and shot one of the occupants, a republican activist. In its statement on Fox’s killing, the IRA says, “We have repeatedly drawn attention to the murderous acts of a group of former B Specials from County Fermanagh…led by serving officers of the British Army.” The author, Tim Pat Coogan, however, suggests that members of the Official IRA are responsible for killing Fox.

The Seanad adjourns for a week as a mark of respect. About 500 people attend Fox’s funeral at Aughnamullen, including Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and the Irish president, Erskine Childers. Fox is the first member of the Oireachtas to be killed since Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins by the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army in 1927. When John Bruton first becomes a Teachta Dála (TD) in 1969 he shares an office with Fox. He says that he is still angry at the murder. The RTÉ documentary Rumours from Monaghan report in detail on the circumstances of Fox’s killing. Because Fox is a Protestant, some suggest that the motive for the killing was sectarian.

One of those convicted for Fox’s killing, Sean Kinsella, later escapes from Portlaoise Prison. He is later convicted of arms offences and attempted murder in England. He is released by the Irish government under the Good Friday Agreement.

The Senator Billy Fox Memorial Park in Aughnamullen is named in his memory.


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Founding of the Arts Council of Ireland

The Arts Council (An Chomhairle Ealaíon), sometimes called the Arts Council of Ireland, is established on May 8, 1951 by the Government of Ireland. The Council’s purpose is to encourage interest in Irish art, including visual art, music, performance, and literature, and to channel funding from the state to Irish artists and arts organisations. This includes encouragement of traditional Irish arts, support for contemporary Irish arts, and finance for international arts events in Ireland. The council is modeled on the Arts Council of Great Britain, founded in 1946, and works closely with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, formed by the British government in Northern Ireland in 1962 to fulfil a similar role.

The Arts Council consists of twelve members and a chair, each appointed for a five-year term by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The Chair of the Arts Council is entitled to an annual fee of €8,978 and ordinary members are entitled to a fee of €5,985, although some members choose to waive this fee.

The ongoing work of the Arts Council is delivered by the executive. In addition to the Director, a staff of 41 full-time equivalents carries out the daily functions of the organisation. Arts advisers, who provide additional expertise and strategic advice on different aspects of the arts, are retained on a consultancy basis.

The Arts Council of Ireland is the official “Cultural Contact Point” between the European Commission‘s Cultural Programme and Ireland and is a founding member of the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies. Visual Artists Ireland, the all-Ireland non-governmental organisation representing Irish artists nationally and internationally, is supported by the Arts Council of Ireland.

For additional information, visit the Arts Council’s website at

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Death of Hunger Striker Frank Stagg

frank-staggFrank Stagg, Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) hunger striker from County Mayo, dies in February 12, 1976, in Wakefield Prison, West Yorkshire, England after 62 days on hunger strike.

Stagg is the seventh child in a family of thirteen children. He is born on October 4, 1942, in Hollymount, County Mayo. His brother, Emmet Stagg, is a Labour Party politician, formerly a Teachta Dála (TD) for Kildare North.

Stagg is educated to primary level at Newbrook Primary School and at CBS Ballinrobe to secondary level. After finishing his schooling, he works as an assistant gamekeeper with his uncle prior to emigrating to England in search of work.

Once in England he gains employment as a bus conductor in north London and later becomes a bus driver. Whilst in England he meets and marries fellow Mayo native, Bridie Armstrong from Carnacon. In 1972, he joins the Luton cumann of Sinn Féin and soon after becomes a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

In April 1973, Stagg is arrested with six others alleged to comprise an IRA unit planning bombing attacks in Coventry. He is tried at Birmingham Crown Court. The jury finds three of the seven not guilty. The remaining four are all found guilty of criminal damage and conspiracy to commit arson. Stagg and English-born priest, Father Patrick Fell, are found to be the unit’s commanding officers. Stagg is given a ten-year sentence and Fell twelve years. Thomas Gerald Rush is given seven years and Anthony Roland Lynch, who is also found guilty of possessing articles with intent to destroy property, namely nitric acid, balloons, wax, and sodium chlorate, is given ten years.

Stagg is initially sent to the top security Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight. In March 1974, having been moved to Parkhurst Prison, he and fellow Mayo man Michael Gaughan join a hunger strike begun by the sisters Marion Price and Dolours Price, Hugh Feeney, and Gerry Kelly.

Following the hunger strike that results in the death of Michael Gaughan, the Price sisters, Feeney, and Kelly are granted repatriation to Ireland. Stagg is denied repatriation and is transferred to Long Lartin Prison. During his time there he is subject to solitary confinement for refusing to do prison work and is also subjected, along with his wife and sisters during visits, to humiliating body searches. In protest against this he begins a second hunger strike that lasts for thirty-four days. This ends when the prison governor agrees to an end to the strip-searches on Stagg and his visitors. Stagg is bed-ridden for the rest of his incarceration in Long Lartin, due to a kidney complaint.

In 1975 Stagg is transferred to Wakefield Prison, where it is demanded that he again do prison work. He refuses and is placed in solitary confinement. On December 14, 1975, Stagg embarks on a hunger strike in Wakefield, along with a number of other republican prisoners, after being refused repatriation to Ireland during the IRA/British truce. Stagg’s demands are an end to solitary confinement, no prison work, and repatriation to prison in Ireland. The British government refuses to meet any of these demands. Stagg dies on February 12, 1976 after 62 days on hunger strike.

Frank Stagg’s burial causes considerable controversy in Ireland, with republicans and two of his brothers seeking to have Stagg buried in the republican plot in Ballina in accordance with his wishes, while his widow, his brother, Emmet Stagg, and the Irish government wish to have him buried in the family plot in the same cemetery and to avoid republican involvement in the funeral. As the republicans wait at Dublin Airport for the body, the Irish government orders the flight to be diverted to Shannon Airport.

His body is taken to Ballina and buried near the family plot. In order to prevent the body being disinterred and reburied by republicans, the grave is covered with concrete. In November 1976, a group of republicans tunnel under the concrete to recover the coffin under cover of darkness and rebury it in the republican plot.


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Establishment of the Central Bank of Ireland

central-bank-of-irelandThe Central Bank of Ireland is established on February 1, 1943, when the Central Bank Act 1942 comes into effect which renames the Currency Commission.

The Central Bank of Ireland is Ireland’s central bank, and as such part of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB). It is also the country’s financial services regulator for most categories of financial firms. It is the issuer of Irish pound banknotes and coinage until the introduction of the euro currency, and now provides this service for the European Central Bank.

The Central Bank, however, does not initially acquire many of the characteristics of a central bank:

  • It is not given custody of the cash reserves of the commercial banks
  • It has no statutory power to restrict credit, though it can promote it
  • The Bank of Ireland remains the government’s banker
  • The conditions for influencing credit through open-market operations does not yet exist
  • Ireland’s external monetary reserves are largely held as external assets of the commercial banks

The mid-1960s see the Bank take over the normal day-to-day operations of exchange control from the Department of Finance. The Central Bank broadens its activities over the decades, but it remains in effect a currency board until the 1970s.

Since January 1, 1972 the Central Bank has been the banker of the Government of Ireland in accordance with the Central Bank Act 1971, which can be seen in legislative terms as completing the long transition from a currency board to a fully functional central bank.

Its head office is located on Dame Street, Dublin, where the public may exchange non-current Irish coinage and currency, both pre- and post-decimalization, for euros. It also operates from premises in Spencer Dock, Iveagh Court, and College Green. The Currency Centre at Sandyford is the currency manufacture, warehouse, and distribution site of the bank.

By March 2017 its city centre staff will move to a new building at North Wall Quay.


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First Prisoners Arrive at Kilmainham Gaol

kilmainham-gaolKilmainham Gaol in Dublin receives its first prisoners on August 12, 1796. When it is first built in 1796, Kilmainham Gaol is called the “New Gaol” to distinguish it from the old prison it is intended to replace. It is officially called the County of Dublin Gaol, and is originally run by the Grand Jury for County Dublin.

Originally, public hangings take place at the front of the prison. However, from the 1820s onward very few hangings, public or private, take place at Kilmainham. A small hanging cell, located on the first floor between the west wing and the east wing, is built in the prison in 1891.

There is no segregation of prisoners as men, women, and children are incarcerated up to five in each cell, with light and heat provided by a single candle which has to last for two weeks. The cells are roughly 28 square metres in area.

At Kilmainham the poor conditions in which women prisoners are kept provide the spur for the next stage of development. Remarkably, for an age that prides itself on a protective attitude for the “weaker sex,” the conditions for women prisoners are persistently worse than for men. Male prisoners are supplied with iron bedsteads while females lay on straw on the floor. Half a century later, however, there is little improvement.

Many Irish revolutionaries, including the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, are imprisoned and executed in the prison by the British.

Kilmainham Gaol is decommissioned as a prison by the Irish Free State government in 1924. Seen principally as a site of oppression and suffering at the time, there is no declared interest in its preservation as a monument to the struggle for national independence. The jail’s potential function as a location of national memory is also undercut and complicated by the fact that the first four republican prisoners executed by the Free State government during the Irish Civil War are shot in the prison yard.

The Irish Prison Board contemplates reopening it as a prison during the 1920s but the plans are abandoned in 1929. In 1936 the government considers the demolition of the prison but the price of this undertaking is seen as prohibitive.

In February 1960 detailed plans submitted by the Kilmainham Gaol Restoration Society for the restoration of Kilmainham, which notably also envisions the site’s development as a tourist attraction, receive the approval of the notoriously parsimonious Department of Finance. Restoration work begins in May of the same year. The final restoration of the site is completed in 1971 when Kilmainham Gaol chapel is re-opened to the public.

Kilmainham Gaol now houses a museum on the history of Irish nationalism and offers guided tours of the building. An art gallery on the top floor exhibits paintings, sculptures, and jewelry of prisoners incarcerated in prisons all over contemporary Ireland.  It is run by the Office of Public Works, an agency of the Government of Ireland.


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Birth of Sister Stanislaus Kennedy

stanislaus-kennedySister Stanislaus Kennedy, campaigner against poverty and homelessness and a member of the congregation of Religious Sisters of Charity since 1958, is born in Dingle, County Kerry, on June 19, 1939. She is affectionately known as Sr. Stan.

At the age of 18, Sr. Stan, then Treasa Kennedy, decides to become a nun. Following in the footsteps of Mary Aikenhead, founder of the Religious Sisters of Charity, she too is drawn to work on behalf of the poor in the towns and cities of Ireland. For over fifty years she has pioneered, campaigned, explored, and developed a range of inspiring social innovations to benefit thousands of people who have experienced exclusion in its many forms.

In the 1960s, Sr. Stan is missioned to Kilkenny to work alongside Bishop Peter Birch in developing Kilkenny Social Services. For nineteen years Peter Birch is both guide and mentor to Sr. Stan as the Kilkenny social services develop into an innovative, comprehensive model of community care becoming a blue-print for the rest of Ireland.

In 1974, the Irish Government appoints Sr. Stan as the first chair of The National Committee on Pilot Schemes to Combat Poverty, and in 1985 the European Commission appoints her as trans-national coordinator in the European rural anti poverty programme working across Europe.

Moving to Dublin in the early 1980s, Sr. Stan tackles one of Ireland’s most neglected social inequalities – homelessness. In 1985, she establishes Focus Point which is now Focus Ireland, the biggest national, voluntary organisation helping people to find, create, and maintain a home.

Sr. Stan founds The Sanctuary in 1998, a meditation/spirituality centre in the heart of Dublin, a place where people can find a quiet space and time for themselves to explore and develop their inner world and wisdom and find stillness.

Sr. Stan establishes two other initiatives in 2001, the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI), an independent national organisation working to promote the rights of immigrants through information, advocacy, and legal aid and the Young Social Innovators (YSI), a national showcase providing an opportunity for students to become involved in social issues.

Sr. Stan has also written thousands of articles that have been published in Ireland and elsewhere. She lectures on social issues and policies, is a frequent keynote speaker at many events, and regularly gives talks to many diverse groups in Ireland, Europe, and outside of Europe.