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


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The Battle of Vinegar Hill

The Battle of Vinegar Hill, an engagement during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, takes place on June 21, 1798 when over 13,000 British soldiers launch an attack on Vinegar Hill outside Enniscorthy, County Wexford, the largest camp and headquarters of the Wexford United Irishmen. It marks a turning point in the rebellion, as it is the last attempt by the United Irishmen to hold and defend ground against the British military. The battle is actually fought in two locations: on Vinegar Hill itself and in the streets of nearby Enniscorthy.

By June 18, the British have surrounded County Wexford with between 13,000 and 18,000 troops and are ready to pour into Wexford to crush the insurgency. The United Irishmen leadership issues a call to all its fighters to gather at Vinegar Hill to meet the army in one great, decisive battle. The number assembled is estimated at between 16,000 and 20,000, but the majority lack firearms and have to rely on pikes as their main weapon. The camp also includes many thousands of women and children who are staying there for protection against the rampaging military.

The British plan, as formulated by General Gerard Lake, envisages the complete annihilation of the United Irishmen, women and children by encircling the hill and seizing the only escape route to the west, the bridge over the River Slaney. Lake divides his force into four columns to accomplish this. Three columns, under Generals David Dundas, James Duff and Francis Needham are to assault Vinegar Hill, while the fourth column, under General Johnson, is to storm Enniscorthy and its bridge.

The battle begins shortly before dawn with an artillery bombardment of Irish positions on the hill. Advance units quickly move against the United Irishmen outposts under cover of the bombardment and move artillery closer as forward positions are secured. The tightening ring forces the United Irishmen into an ever-shrinking area and increases exposure to the constant bombardment, including new experimental delayed-fuse shells resulting in hundreds of dead and injured. At least two mass charges are launched by the United Irishmen which fail to break the lines of the military and the situation on Vinegar Hill soon becomes desperate for the United Irishmen.

Meanwhile, a detachment of light infantry under the command of General Johnson attacks the town of Enniscorthy but meets with fierce resistance. Buildings in the town have been fortified and the initial attack is driven back with the loss of munitions and men. A second attack commences with reinforcements including cavalry, which retake the lost cannon and ammunition while also incurring considerable casualties. The United Irishmen are slowly driven out of the town but manage to hold the Slaney bridge and prevent the British from crossing.

When British troops crest the eastern summit of Vinegar Hill, the rebels begin to slowly withdraw through a gap in the British lines later known as “Needham’s Gap”, so-named because the late arrival of General Needham’s troops prevented a total encirclement of the hill. Although the bulk of the United Irishmen army escape, many are left behind and killed in the routing phase of the battle from both cavalry and infantry attack, but also from the advanced field guns which are switched to grapeshot to maximize casualties.

In addition to conventional casualties, there are also instances of British troops raping the women accompanying the United Irishmen and in Enniscorthy, United Irishmen wounded are burned to death when soldiers set fire to a building used as a casualty station. These atrocities may have been perpetrated in revenge for the execution by the United Irishmen of numbers of mostly Protestant loyalist prisoners of war in the preceding weeks. The United Irishmen abandon much of the supplies they had taken from surrounding areas, and thirteen cannons are captured by the British, a number of which had been taken from the British forces previously.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the United Irishmen force streams uninterrupted towards the Three Rocks camp outside Wexford and, following the decision to abandon the town, split into two separate columns in a new campaign to spread the rebellion beyond Wexford. One immediately sets out to the west, the other northwards towards the Wicklow Mountains to link up with General Joseph Holt‘s forces.

The defeat is therefore not the immediate crushing blow to the Wexford United Irishmen that it has falsely been depicted as, but it does alter the course of the fighting as continued resistance now takes the form of mobile warfare, raids, and large scale, guerilla-type operations.

Casualties for the United Irishmen have been variously reported, with estimates ranging from 400 to around 1,200. Kevin Whelan estimates a figure of between 500 and 1,000 including camp followers, while Archibald McLaren, a British soldier eyewitness, writes that the United Irishmen casualties total about 1,200 men. British casualties are around one hundred.


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Death of Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener

Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener, Irish-born senior British Army officer and colonial administrator, drowns in the sinking of the HMS Hampshire west of Orkney, Scotland, on June 5, 1916. He wins notoriety for his imperial campaigns, especially his scorched earth policy against the Boers, his expansion of Lord Robertsinternment camps during the Second Boer War and his central role in the early part of World War I.

Kitchener is born in Ballylongford near Listowel, County Kerry, son of army officer Henry Horatio Kitchener and Frances Anne Chevallier, daughter of John Chevallier, a priest, of Aspall Hall, and his third wife, Elizabeth. The family moves to Switzerland when he is young, where he is educated at Montreux, then at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He joins a French field ambulance unit in the Franco-Prussian War but is returned to England after he comes down with pneumonia.

Kitchener is credited in 1898 for winning the Battle of Omdurman and securing control of the Sudan for which he is made Baron Kitchener of Khartoum. As Chief of Staff (1900–1902) in the Second Boer War he plays a key role in Lord Roberts’ conquest of the Boer Republics, then succeeds Roberts as commander-in-chief, by which time Boer forces have taken to guerrilla warfare and British forces imprison Boer civilians in concentration camps. His term as Commander-in-Chief (1902–09) of the Army in India sees him quarrel with another eminent proconsul, the Viceroy Lord Curzon, who eventually resigns. He then returns to Egypt as British Agent and Consul General.

In 1914, at the start of World War I, Kitchener becomes Secretary of State for War, a Cabinet Minister. One of the few to foresee a long war, lasting for at least three years, and with the authority to act effectively on that perception, he organises the largest volunteer army that Britain had ever seen, and oversees a significant expansion of materials production to fight on the Western Front. Despite having warned of the difficulty of provisioning for a long war, he is blamed for the shortage of shells in the spring of 1915, one of the events leading to the formation of a coalition government, and is stripped of his control over munitions and strategy.

On June 5, 1916, Kitchener is making his way to Russia on HMS Hampshire to attend negotiations with Tsar Nicholas II. At the last minute, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe changes the HMS Hampshire‘s route on the basis of a misreading of the weather forecast and ignoring (or not being aware of) recent intelligence and sightings of German U-boat activity in the vicinity of the amended route. Shortly before 7:30 PM the same day, steaming for the Russian port of Arkhangelsk during a Force 9 gale, HMS Hampshire strikes a mine laid by the newly launched German U-boat U-75 and sinks 1.5 miles west of the Orkney. Only twelve men survive. Amongst the dead are Kitchener and all ten members of his entourage. He is seen standing on the quarterdeck during the approximately twenty minutes that it takes the ship to sink. His body is never recovered.


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The Ballyseedy Massacre

The Ballyseedy Massacre takes place near Ballyseedy, County Kerry, on March 7, 1923. Kerry had seen more violence in the guerrilla phase of the Irish Civil War than almost anywhere else in Ireland. By March 1923, 68 Free State soldiers had already been killed in Kerry and 157 wounded – 85 would die there by the end of the war.

The day after five Free State soldiers are killed by a booby trap bomb while searching a republican dugout at the village of Knocknagoshel, Paddy Daly, in command of the Free State’s Kerry forces, announces that prisoners will be used in the future to clear mined roads.

In Ballyseedy, nine Republican prisoners – Pat Buckley, John Daly, Pat Hartnett, Michael O’Connell, John O’Connor, George O’Shea, Tim Tuomey, James Walsh and Steven Fuller – are driven to the remote Ballyseedy Wood near Ballyseedy Cross to be executed. The troops make sure that they are ‘all fairly anonymous, no priests or nuns in the family, those that’ll make the least noise.’ As they are being loaded into the lorry, the Free State Army guards ask them if they would care to smoke, telling them it will be their last cigarette.

They are taken to a remote location near the banks of the River Lee, where a large log stretches across the Castleisland Road. The Republicans are all tied to the log alongside a mine which is then detonated. Several of the Republicans, however, survive the initial explosion. The Free State soldiers then proceed to throw a number of grenades and shoot at them ensuring they are dead.

They succeed in killing all but Steven Fuller. The force of the explosion hurls him clear across the road. Falling, dazed, but conscious that he is alive and unhurt he quickly realises that the blast had even burst apart the cords used to tie him. As the soldiers come out from their cover after the detonation he crawls along the shelter of the ditch into the river at the roadside, escaping to a nearby Irish Republican Army (IRA) hideout. For days afterwards the birds are eating human flesh off the trees at Ballyseedy Cross.

Eight anti-treaty volunteers and prisoners are killed in the explosion. The exact details are murky. Official government sources state that the men were killed while clearing mines left by anti-treaty forces. Conversely anti-treaty sources claim the men were attached to a mine which was then detonated in retaliation for an explosion the previous day which killed six government forces in Knocknagashel, 30 miles away. If anyone believes that the explosion at Ballyseedy had been an accident, they would have trouble explaining the deaths of nine more Republican prisoners in the next four days.

There is no way of knowing how many men had been killed. Eight prisoners of war are murdered that night at Ballyseedy Cross. Nine coffins are sent back to Tralee the next day. What are the people of Tralee to do with that ninth coffin? A mother wails, “But my son was six feet tall. How can he come home to me in such a small coffin?” They will not let the mother open that coffin.

For three generations following the Irish Civil War, the country is riven by the pain and anguish of the violent conflict. Ballyseedy is just one example of the horrors inflicted.

(From: Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland, https://stairnaheireann.net/, Photo: Ballyseedy Massacre Monument, Curraghmacdonagh, County Kerry)


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The Beginning of the IRA’s Border Campaign

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) begins what it calls “The Campaign of Resistance to British Occupation” on December 12, 1956. Also known as the “Border Campaign,” it is a guerrilla warfare campaign carried out by the IRA against targets in Northern Ireland, with the aim of overthrowing British rule there and creating a united Ireland. Although the campaign is a military failure, but for some of its members, the campaign is justified as it keeps the IRA engaged for another generation.

The border campaign is the first major military undertaking carried out by the IRA since the 1940s, when the harsh security measures of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland governments had severely weakened it. In 1939 the IRA tries a bombing campaign in England to try to force British withdrawal from Northern Ireland. From 1942 to 1944 it also mounts an ineffective campaign in Northern Ireland. Internment on both sides of the border, as well as internal feuding and disputes over future policy, all but destroy the organisation. These campaigns are officially called off on March 10, 1945. By 1947, the IRA has only 200 activists, according to its own general staff.

Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army Tony Magan sets out to create “a new Army, untarnished by the dissent and scandals of the previous decade.” Magan believes that a degree of political mobilization is necessary and the relationship with Sinn Féin, which had soured during the 1930s, is improved. At the 1949 IRA Convention, the IRA orders its members to join Sinn Féin, which partially becomes the “civilian wing” of the IRA.

By the mid-1950s, the IRA has substantially re-armed. This is achieved by means of arms raids launched between 1951 and 1954, on British military bases in Northern Ireland and England. By 1955, splits are occurring in the IRA, as several small groups, impatient for action, launch their own attacks in Northern Ireland. In November 1956, the IRA finally begins planning its border campaign.

On December 12 the campaign is launched with simultaneous attacks by around 150 IRA members on targets on the Border in the early hours. A BBC relay transmitter is bombed in Derry, a courthouse is burned in Magherafelt by a unit led by an 18-year-old Seamus Costello, as is a B-Specials post near Newry and a half-built Army barracks at Enniskillen is blown up. A raid on Gough Barracks in Armagh is beaten off after a brief exchange of fire.

The IRA issues a statement announcing the start of the campaign, “Spearheaded by Ireland’s freedom fighters, our people have carried the fight to the enemy…Out of this national liberation struggle a new Ireland will emerge, upright and free. In that new Ireland, we shall build a country fit for all our people to live in. That then is our aim: an independent, united, democratic Irish Republic. For this we shall fight until the invader is driven from our soil and victory is ours.”

The year 1957 is the most active year of the IRA’s campaign, with 341 incidents recorded. The most dramatic attack of the whole campaign takes place on January 1 when fourteen IRA volunteers, including Séan Garland, Alan O Brien and Dáithí Ó Conaill plan an attack on a joint Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)/B-Specials barracks in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, though they attack the wrong building. On 11 November, the IRA suffers its worst loss of life in the period when four of its members die preparing a bomb in a farm house at Edentubber, County Louth, which explodes prematurely. The civilian owner of the house is also killed.

By 1958, the campaign’s initial impetus has largely dissipated. Certain IRA activities produce public hostility and, by 1958, there are already many within the IRA in favour of calling off the campaign. The Cork IRA, for instance, has effectively withdrawn. By mid-1958, 500 republicans are in gaol or interned, North and South.

The period after the summer of 1958 sees a steep drop in the intensity of the IRA campaign. That the IRA’s campaign had run its course by 1960 is testified by the fact that the Republic of Ireland’s government closes the Curragh Camp, which housed internees in the South, on March 15, 1959, judging them to be no further threat. The Northern Irish government follows suit on April 25, 1961.

In November 1961 a RUC officer, William Hunter, is killed in a gun battle with the IRA in south County Armagh. This is the final fatality of the conflict. Minister for Justice Charles Haughey reactivates the Special Criminal Court, which hands down long prison sentences to convicted IRA men.

Although it had petered out by the late 1950s, by late 1961 the campaign is over and is officially called off on February 26, 1962 in a press release issued that day, drafted by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh who consults with several other persons including members of the IRA Army Council. The campaign costs the lives of eight IRA men, four republican supporters and six RUC members. In addition, 32 RUC members are wounded. A total of 256 Republicans are interned in Northern Ireland during this period and another 150 or so in the Republic. Of those in Northern Ireland, 89 sign a pledge to renounce violence in return for their freedom.

(Pictured: A group of IRA men before embarking on an operation in the 1950s | Photo credited to http://laochrauladh.blogspot.ie/)


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Founding of the Irish National Army

irish-national-army-cap-badgeThe first regiment of the Irish National Army, sometimes unofficially referred to as the Free State army or the Regulars, is set up in Dublin on January 31, 1922.

The National Army is the army of the Irish Free State from January 1922 until October 1924. Its role in this period is defined by its service in the Irish Civil War, in defence of the institutions established by the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Michael Collins is the army’s first chief of staff from its establishment until his death in an ambush at Béal na mBláth on August 22, 1922.

The National Army is constituted from the revolutionary Irish Republican Army (IRA), which emerges from the successful Irish War of Independence fought as a guerrilla campaign against the British Army and Royal Irish Constabulary. Its first troops are those IRA volunteers who support the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the Provisional Government of Ireland formed there under. The army makes its first public appearance on January 31, 1922, when command of Beggars Bush Barracks is handed over from the British Army.

Conflict arises between the National Army and the anti-Treaty components of the IRA, which does not support the government of the Irish Free State. On June 28, 1922 the National Army commences an artillery bombardment of anti-Treaty IRA forces who are occupying the Four Courts in Dublin, thus beginning the Irish Civil War.

The National Army is greatly expanded in size to fight the civil war against the anti-Treaty IRA, in a mostly counter-insurgency campaign that is brought to a successful conclusion in May 1923. From October 1, 1924, the Army is reorganised into a smaller, better regulated force. The term “National Army” is superseded by the legal establishment of the Defence Forces as the Irish Free State’s military force.


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Death of Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich

tomas-o-fiaichRoman Catholic Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, the Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh and an ardent Irish nationalist, dies of cardiac arrest in a hospital at Toulouse, France at the age of 66 on May 8, 1990 after falling ill on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Lourdes is a Catholic shrine where a peasant girl reported a vision of the Virgin Mary in 1858. Miraculous cures have been reported there.

Ó Fiaich is born Thomas Fee on November 3, 1923 in Cullyhanna, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, within sight of the border with the Republic of Ireland. He changes his name to the Gaelic form as his love of the Irish language and nationalist sentiments develop.

An announcement of the death, issued by the church’s press office in both Belfast and Dublin, says Ó Fiaich had appeared unwell to doctors accompanying the group of 600 pilgrims from his seat at Armagh in Northern Ireland.

Ó Fiaich is admitted first to a hospital in Lourdes, then flown by helicopter to Toulouse. Philippe Giovanni, director of the Rangueil Hospital there, says the cardinal died of a brutal cardiac arrest soon after being admitted.

While calling for a unified Ireland and criticizing British policy in Northern Ireland, Ó Fiaich, whose name is pronounced O’Fee, also castigates the violence of the Irish Republican Army, the predominantly Catholic outlawed guerrilla army that seeks to end British rule in Northern Ireland and unite it with the Republic of Ireland.

Ó Fiaich is appointed spiritual leader of Ireland’s four million Catholics in in 1977. Two years later Pope John Paul II makes him one of the first cardinals of his papacy.

Tributes to Ó Fiaich poured in from some both sides of the Irish border. In Dublin, Taoiseach Charles Haughey says he is “devastated, … deeply grieved.” Britain’s top official in Northern Ireland, Secretary of State Peter Brooke, also expresses sadness. “We did not always agree about everything, but he treated me with the greatest possible courtesy, friendliness and warmth.”

However hardline Protestant leader Ian Paisley of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party says Ó Fiaich is “the mallet of Rome against the Protestants of Northern Ireland.” He claims Ó Fiaich had “made an outrageous statement that the majority of bigotry in Ulster stemmed from the Protestant section of the community” and added, “He did not seem to realize that the IRA, which is carrying out the most atrocious of outrages … were the people who needed to be indicted with bigotry.”

In Belfast, Ulster Television suspends scheduled programs for an hour and airs a religious program and a news program about the cardinal.

Ó Fiaich retains close ties to Armagh, which had been dubbed “bandit country” because of the IRA activity. From the time he becomes primate, he speaks publicly of his wishes for a united Ireland. He visits IRA guerrillas in jail, calls the British Army’s fatal shooting of an Irish civilian murder, and says the border dividing Ireland is “unnatural.”

Following his death, Ó Fiaich lies in state at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, where thousands of people line up to pay their respects.

(From: AP News, apnews.com, May 8, 1990)


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The Murder of Outlaw Redmond O’Hanlon

redmond-ohanlonRedmond O’Hanlon, Irish guerrilla outlaw and an important figure in the Irish Rebellion of 1641, is shot and killed by his foster brother on April 25, 1681.

O’Hanlon is born in 1620 near Poyntzpass, County Armagh, in what is now Northern Ireland, the son of Loughlin O’Hanlon, rightful heir to Tandragee Castle. As a young man he is sent for a “proper” education in England and later works as a footman to Sir George Acheson of Markethill, but is dismissed for stealing horses. After the Irish Rebellion of 1641, he joins the Irish Catholic rebel forces. He serves under Owen Roe O’Neill at the Irish victory at the Battle of Benburb in 1646 but flees to France after the defeat of the Irish Confederation in the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. O’Hanlon’s family lands are confiscated under the Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652.

O’Hanlon spends several years in exile as an officer with the French army and is awarded the title of Count of the French Empire. He returns to Ireland around 1660, after the Restoration of King Charles II of England. After realizing there will be no restitution of his family’s lands, he takes to the hills around Slieve Gullion and becomes a notorious highwayman.

Although O’Hanlon is often compared to a real-life Robin Hood, the truth is more complex. Protestant landlords, militia officers, and even Anglican and Catholic priests work as informal members of the O’Hanlon gang, giving him information and scouting sites for him to rob. He also forces the landlords and merchants of northern Ireland to pay protection money. It is stated that the criminal activities of O’Hanlon are bringing in more money than the King’s revenue collectors.

In 1674 the colonial authorities in Dublin put a price on O’Hanlon’s head with posters advertising for his capture, dead or alive. The Anglo-Irish landowner Henry St. John, who had been granted the traditional lands of the O’Hanlon clan, receives O’Hanlon’s undying hatred when he begins evicting his clansmen in large numbers. St. John responds by waging a private war against the O’Hanlon Gang. The loss of his 19-year-old son while pursuing O’Hanlon only makes Henry St. John increasingly brutal toward anyone suspected of aiding Redmond O’Hanlon. On September 9, 1679, St. John is riding on his estate with a manservant and the Reverend Lawrence Power, the Church of Ireland Rector of Tandragee. A party of O’Hanlon’s associates ride into view and seize him, warning that he would be killed if a rescue is attempted. Then, a group of the family’s retainers ride into view and open fire on the kidnappers. As a result, Henry St. John receives two pistol balls in the forehead.

At the landlord’s funeral, an outraged Reverend Power denounces the outlaws and the landowners who do business with them. Outraged, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, orders the assassination of O’Hanlon.

Count Redmond O’Hanlon is murdered in his sleep by his foster brother and close associate Art MacCall O’Hanlon at Eight Mile Bridge near Hilltown, County Down on April 25, 1681. Art receives a full pardon and two hundred pounds from the Duke of Ormond for murdering his leader. William Lucas, the militia officer who had recruited Art and arranges the killing, receives a Lieutenant’s commission in the British Army.

As is the custom of the day, there are gruesome displays of his body parts including his head which is placed on a spike over Downpatrick jail. His remains are eventually removed to lie in a family plot in Conwal Parish Church cemetery in Letterkenny, County Donegal, where his parents had fled from Henry St. John. His bones, however, are not left to rest in peace there and his grave is constantly desecrated by the Duke’s supporters. His remains are finally removed by his family and interred in his final secret resting place, somewhere within Lurgan Parish.


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Birth of Playwright Seán O’Casey

sean-ocaseySeán O’Casey, Irish playwright renowned for realistic dramas of the Dublin slums in war and revolution, in which tragedy and comedy are juxtaposed in a way new to the theatre of his time, is born at 85 Upper Dorset Street in Dublin on March 30, 1880.

Born as John Casey into a lower middle-class Irish Protestant family, his father dies when he is six, and thereafter the family becomes progressively poorer. With only three years of formal schooling, he educates himself by reading. He starts work at 14, mostly at manual labour, including several years with the Irish railways.

O’Casey becomes caught up in the cause of Irish nationalism, and he changes his name to its Irish form and learns the Irish language. His attitudes are greatly influenced by the poverty and squalor he witnesses in Dublin’s slums and by the teachings of the Irish labour leader Jim Larkin. He becomes active in the labour movement and writes for The Irish Worker. He also joins the Irish Citizen Army, a paramilitary arm of the Irish labour unions, and draws up its constitution in 1914. At this time he becomes disillusioned with the Irish nationalist movement because its leaders put nationalist ideals before socialist ones. He does not take part in the 1916 Easter Rising against the British authorities.

Disgusted with the existing political parties, he turns his energies to drama. His tragicomedies reflect in part his mixed feelings about his fellow slum dwellers, seeing them as incapable of giving a socialist direction to the Irish cause but at the same time admirable for their unconquerable spirit.

After several of his plays have been rejected, the Abbey Theatre in Dublin produces The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), set during the guerrilla warfare between the Irish Republican Army and British forces. In 1924 the Abbey stages Juno and the Paycock, his most popular play, set during the period of civil war over the terms of Irish independence. The Plough and the Stars (1926), with the 1916 Easter Rising as its background, causes riots at the Abbey by patriots who think the play denigrates Irish heroes. When first produced in the 1920s, these plays have an explosive effect on the audiences at the Abbey and help to enlarge the theatre’s reputation.

O’Casey goes to England in 1926, meets the Irish actress Eileen Carey Reynolds, marries her, and henceforth makes England his home. His decision to live outside Ireland is motivated in part by the Abbey’s rejection of The Silver Tassie, a partly Expressionist antiwar drama produced in England in 1929. Another Expressionist play, Within the Gates (1934), follows, in which the modern world is symbolized by the happenings in a public park. The Star Turns Red (1940) is an antifascist play, and the semiautobiographical Red Roses for Me (1946) is set in Dublin at the time of the Irish railways strike of 1911.

O’Casey’s later plays, given to fantasy and ritual and directed against the life-denying puritanism he believes has beset Ireland, include Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), The Bishop’s Bonfire (1955), and The Drums of Father Ned (1958). His last full-length play is a satire on Dublin intellectuals, Behind the Green Curtains, published in 1961.

O’Casey’s three indisputably great plays are The Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and the Paycock, and The Plough and the Stars. All are tragicomedies set in the slums of Dublin during times of war and revolution. Violent death and the everyday realities of tenement life throw into relief the blustering rhetoric and patriotic swagger of men caught up in the struggle for Irish independence. The resulting ironic juxtapositions of the comic and tragic reveal the waste of war and the corrosive effects of poverty. His gifts are for vivid characterization and working-class language and, though he portrays war and poverty, he writes some of the funniest scenes in modern drama. His later plays are not considered as powerful or moving as his earlier realistic plays. In his later plays he tends to abandon vigorous characterization in favour of expressionism and symbolism, and sometimes the drama is marred by didacticism.

Six volumes of O’Casey’s autobiography appeared from 1939 to 1956. They are later collected as Mirror in My House (1956) in the United States and as Autobiographies (1963) in Great Britain. O’Casey’s letters from 1910 to 1941 are edited by David Krause in two volumes (1975, 1980).

Sean O’Casey dies of a heart attack at the age of 84 on September 18, 1964, in Torquay, Devon. He is cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium.


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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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Surrender of Rebel Leader Michael Dwyer

michael-dwyerUnited Irishmen leader Michael Dwyer, whose guerrilla attacks maddened the British Army from 1798, surrenders on December 17, 1803.

Dwyer is born in Camara, a townland in the Glen of Imaal County Wicklow in 1772 and he participates in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. However, unlike most of the leaders and soldiers in that Rising, he does not either leave the country or return to his normal life, nor is he captured. He retreats into the Wicklow Mountains with a band of men and drives the British to distraction in their attempts to apprehend him. A reward is placed on Dwyer’s head and another for each of his men, but he leads the British authorities on a merry chase for five years, with many daring narrow escapes, each adding to his legend. Some call him the “Outlaw of Glenmalure.”

In 1803, he plans to assist Robert Emmet in his rising but he never receives the signal to join the rising. At this point he recognizes the futility of his situation, and he also wishes to relieve the suffering of a number of his family members, including his sister, whom has been jailed for no offense other than their family relationship to him. Some claim that when he contacts the British to ask terms of surrender, he is promised he and his men will be sent to the United States. If so, and not for the first time, their word to an Irishman proves worthless. After two years of brutal treatment in Kilmainham Gaol, under the infamous Edward Trevor, Dwyer is transported to Botany Bay.

Dwyer and his family, along with a number of his men, set sail for Australia on board the Tellicherry on August 25, 1805, arriving in Sydney on February 14, 1806. However, the story of Michael Dwyer does not end there. In Sydney, Dwyer runs afoul of the Governor, a certain Capt. William Bligh, of HMS Bounty fame. Bligh accuses Dwyer of being the leader of a rebellious plot involving other United Irishmen in the area, which, if true, would certainly not be out of character. Bligh ships Dwyer off to Norfolk Island, one of the worst hellholes of the British penal system in Australia.

After six months he is transferred to Tasmania, where he remains for another two years. In 1808, Bligh leaves the Governorship and Dwyer finally makes it back to his family in Sydney and is granted 100 acres of land nearby. Like many transported Irish rebels, he eventually becomes part of the local establishment and, in a bit of irony, the “Outlaw of Glenmalure” is appointed constable.

Michael Dwyer dies in 1825, but his wife lives to be 93, not dying until 1861. With her passes the last connection to the “Boys of ’98” in Australia. Dwyer remains a legend among the people of the Wicklow Mountains to this day.