seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Richard Barrett, Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Richard Barrett, commonly called Dick Barrett, a prominent Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer, is born on December 17, 1889 in Knockacullen (Hollyhill), Ballineen, County Cork. He fights in the Irish War of Independence and on the Anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War, during which he is captured and later executed on December 8, 1922.

Barrett is the son of Richard Barrett, farmer, and Ellen Barrett (née Henigan). Educated at Knocks and Knockskagh national schools, he enters the De La Salle College, Waterford, where he trains to be a teacher. Obtaining a first-class diploma, he first teaches at Ballinamult, County Waterford but then returns to Cork in early 1914 to take up a position at the St. Patrick’s Industrial School, Upton. Within months he is appointed principal of Gurrane National School. Devoted to the Irish language and honorary secretary of Knockavilla GAA club, he does much to popularise both movements in the southern and western districts of Cork. He appears to have been a member of the Cork Young Ireland Society.

From 1917, inspired by the Easter Rising, Barrett takes a prominent part in the organisation and operation of the Irish Volunteers and Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). By this time he is also involved with Sinn Féin, in which role he attends the ardfheis at the Mansion House in October 1917 and the convention of the Irish Volunteers at Croke Park immediately afterwards.

Through planning and participating in raids and gunrunning episodes, Barrett comes into close contact with many GHQ staff during the Irish War of Independence, thereby ensuring his own rapid promotion. He is an active Irish Republican Army (IRA) brigade staff officer and occasionally acts as commandant of the West Cork III Brigade. He also organises fundraising activities for the purchase of weapons and for comrades on the run. In July 1920, following the arrest of the Cork III Brigade commander Tom Hales and quartermaster Pat Harte, he is appointed its quartermaster. He is arrested on March 22, 1921 and imprisoned in Cork jail, later being sent to Spike Island, County Cork.

As one of the senior officers held in Spike Island, Barrett is involved in many of the incidents that occur during his time there. After the truce is declared on July 11, 1921, some prisoners go on hunger strike but he calls it off after a number of days on instructions from outside as a decision had been made that able-bodied men are more important to the cause. In November, Barrett escapes by row boat alongside Moss (Maurice) Twomey, Henry O’Mahoney, Tom Crofts, Bill Quirke, Dick Eddy and Paddy Buckley.

Following the Irish War of Independence, Barrett supports the Anti-Treaty IRA‘s refusal to submit to the authority of Dáil Éireann (civil government of the Irish Republic declared in 1919). He is opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and calls for the total elimination of English influence in Ireland. In April 1922, under the command of Rory O’Connor, he, along with 200 other hardline anti-treaty men, take over the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the new Irish government. They want to provoke British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them. They hope this will restart the war with Britain and reunite the IRA against their common enemy. Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade O’Connor and his men to vacate the building. However, on June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison had kidnapped J. J. O’Connell, a general in the new National Army, Collins’s soldiers shell the Four Courts with British artillery to spark off what becomes known as the Battle of Dublin. O’Connor surrenders following two days of fighting, and Barrett, with most of his comrades, is arrested and held in Mountjoy Gaol. This incident marks the official outbreak of the Irish Civil War, as fighting escalates around the country between pro- and anti-treaty factions.

After the death of Michael Collins in an ambush, a period of tit-for-tat revenge killings ensues. The government implements martial law and enacts the necessary legislation to set up military courts. In November, the government begins to execute Anti-Treaty prisoners, including Erskine Childers. In response, Liam Lynch, the Anti-Treaty Chief of Staff, gives an order that any member of the Dáil who had voted for the ‘murder legislation’ is to be shot on sight.

On December 7, 1922, Teachta Dála (TD) Sean Hales is killed by anti-Treaty IRA men as he leaves the Dáil. Another TD, Pádraic Ó Máille, is also shot and badly wounded in the incident. An emergency cabinet meeting is allegedly held the next day to discuss the assassination of Hales. It is proposed that four prominent members of the Anti-Treaty side currently held as prisoners be executed as a reprisal and deterrent. The names put forward were Barrett, O’Connor, Liam Mellows and Joe McKelvey. It is alleged that the four are chosen to represent each of the four provinces – Munster, Connacht, Leinster and Ulster respectively, but none of the four is actually from Connacht. The executions are ordered by Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins. At 2:00 AM on the morning of December 8, 1922, Barrett is awoken along with the other three and informed that they are all to be executed at 8:00 that morning.

Ironies stack one upon the other. Barrett is a member of the same IRA brigade as Hales during the Anglo-Irish War, and they were childhood friends. O’Connor had been best man at O’Higgins’ wedding a year earlier. The rest of Sean Hales’ family remains staunchly anti-Treaty, and publicly denounces the executions. In reprisal for O’Higgins’ role in the executions, the Anti-Treaty IRA kills his father and burns his family home in Stradbally, County Laois. O’Higgins himself dies by an assassin’s hand on July 10, 1927.

The executions stun Ireland, but in terms of halting the Anti-Treaty assassination policy, they have the desired effect. The Free State government continues to execute enemy prisoners, and 77 official executions take place by the end of the war.

Barrett is now buried in his home county, Cork, following exhumation and reinternment by a later government. A monument is erected by old comrades of the West Cork Brigade, the First Southern Division, IRA, and of the Four Courts, Dublin, garrison in 1922 which is unveiled on December 13, 1952 by the Tánaiste Seán Lemass.

A poem about the execution is written by County Galway clergyman Pádraig de Brún.


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Birth of Irish Writer Francis Stuart

Henry Francis Montgomery Stuart, Irish writer, is born in Townsville, Queensland, Australia on April 29, 1902. He is awarded one of the highest artistic accolades in Ireland, being elected a Saoi of Aosdána, before his death in 2000. His years in Nazi Germany lead to a great deal of controversy.

Stuart is born to Irish Protestant parents, Henry Irwin Stuart and Elizabeth Barbara Isabel Montgomery. His father is an alcoholic and kills himself when Stuart is an infant. This prompts his mother to return to Ireland and Stuart’s childhood is divided between his home in Ireland and Rugby School in England, where he boards.

In 1920, at age 17, Stuart becomes a Catholic and marries Iseult Gonne, daughter of Maud Gonne. Her father is the right-wing French politician Lucien Millevoye, with whom Maud Gonne had had an affair between 1887 and 1899. Because of her complex family situation, Iseult is often passed off as Maud Gonne’s niece in conservative circles in Ireland. Iseult has a brief affair with Ezra Pound prior to meeting Stuart. Pound and Stuart both believe in the primacy of the artist over the masses and are subsequently drawn to fascism; Stuart to Nazi Germany and Pound to Fascist Italy.

Gonne and Stuart have a baby daughter who dies in infancy. Perhaps to recover from this tragedy, they travel for a while in Europe but return to Ireland as the Irish Civil War begins. Unsurprisingly given Gonne’s strong opinions, the couple are caught up on the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA) side of the fight. Stuart is involved in gun running and is interned following a botched raid.

After independence, Stuart participates in the literary life of Dublin and writes poetry and novels. His novels are successful and his writing is publicly supported by W. B. Yeats.

Stuart’s time with Gonne is not an entirely happy time as both he and his wife apparently struggle with personal demons and their internal anguish poisons their marriage. In letters to close friend W. B. Yeats, Maud Gonne characterizes Stuart as being emotionally, financially, and physically abusive towards Iseult.

During the 1930s Stuart becomes friendly with German Intelligence (Abwehr) agent Helmut Clissmann and his Irish wife Elizabeth. Clissmann is working for the German Academic Exchange Service and the Deutsche Akademie (DA). He is facilitating academic exchanges between Ireland and the Third Reich but also forming connections which might be of benefit to the Abwehr. Clissmann is also a representative of the Nazi Auslandorganisation (AO), the Nazi Party’s foreign organisation, in pre-war Ireland.

Stuart is also friendly with the head of the German Legation in Dublin, Dr. Eduard Hempel, largely as a result of Maud Gonne MacBride’s rapport with him. By 1938 he is seeking a way out of his marriage and the provincialism of Irish life. Iseult intervenes with Clissmann to arrange for Stuart to travel to Germany to give a series of academic lectures in conjunction with the DA. He travels to Germany in April 1939 and visits Munich, Hamburg, Bonn and Cologne. After his lecture tour, he accepts an appointment as lecturer in English and Irish literature at Berlin University to begin in 1940. At this time, under the Nuremberg Laws, the German academic system has barred Jews.

In July 1939, Stuart returns home to Laragh, County Wicklow, and after his plans for traveling to Germany are finalised, he receives a visit from his brother-in-law, Seán MacBride, following the seizure of an IRA radio transmitter on December 29, 1939 which had been used to contact Germany. Stuart, MacBride, Seamus O’Donovan, and IRA Chief of Staff Stephen Hayes then meet at O’Donovan’s house. Stuart is told to take a message to Abwehr HQ in Berlin. Upon arrival in Berlin in January 1940, he delivers the IRA message and has some discussion with the Abwehr on conditions in Ireland and the fate of the IRA-Abwehr radio link. Around August 1940, he is asked by Sonderführer Kurt Haller if he will participate in Operation Dove and he agrees, although he is later dropped in favour of Frank Ryan.

Between March 1942 and January 1944 Stuart works as part of the Redaktion-Irland team, reading radio broadcasts containing Nazi propaganda which are aimed at and heard in Ireland. In his broadcasts he frequently speaks with admiration of Adolf Hitler and expresses the hope that Germany will help unite Ireland. He is dropped from the Redaktion-Irland team in January 1944 because he objects to the anti-Soviet material that is presented to him and deemed essential by his supervisors. His passport is taken from him by the Gestapo after this event.

In 1945 Stuart plans to Ireland with a former student Gertrude Meissner. They are arrested and detained by Allied troops. Following their release, Stuart and Meissner live in Germany and then France and England. They marry in 1954 after Iseult’s death and in 1958 they return to settle in Ireland. In 1971 Stuart publishes his best known work, Black List Section H, an autobiographical fiction documenting his life and distinguished by a queasy sensitivity to moral complexity and moral ambiguity.

In 1996 Stuart is elected a Saoi of Aosdána, a high honour in the Irish art world. Influential Irish language poet Máire Mhac an tSaoi objects strongly, referring to Stuart’s actions during the war and claiming that he holds anti-Semitic opinions. When it is put to a vote, she is the only person to vote for her motion. She resigns from Aosdána in protest, sacrificing a government stipend by doing so. While the Aosdána affair is ongoing, The Irish Times columnist Kevin Myers attacks Stuart as a Nazi sympathiser. Stuart sues for libel and the case is settled out of court. The statement from The Irish Times read out in the High Court accepts “that Mr. Stuart never expressed anti-Semitism in his writings or otherwise.”

For some years before his death Stuart lives in County Clare with his partner Fionuala and in County Wicklow with his son Ian and daughter-in-law Anna in a house outside Laragh village. He dies of natural causes on February 2, 2000 at the age of 97 in County Clare.


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The Assassination of Christopher Ewart-Biggs

christopher-ewart-biggs-assassinationChristopher Thomas Ewart Ewart-Biggs, British Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, author and senior Foreign Office liaison officer with MI6, is killed in Sandyford, Dublin on July 21, 1976 by a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) land mine.

Ewart-Biggs is born in the Thanet district of Kent, South East England to Captain Henry Ewart-Biggs of the Royal Engineers and his wife Mollie Brice. He is educated at Wellington College and University College, Oxford and serves in the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment of the British Army during World War II. At the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942 he loses his right eye and as a result he wears a smoked-glass monocle over an artificial eye.

Ewart-Biggs joins the Foreign Service in 1949, serving in Lebanon, Qatar and Algiers, as well as Manila, Brussels and Paris.

Ewart-Biggs is 55 when he is killed by a land mine planted by the IRA on July 21, 1976. He had been taking precautions to avoid such an incident since coming to Dublin only two weeks earlier. Among the measures he employs is to vary his route many times a week however, at a vulnerable spot on the road connecting his residence to the main road, there is only a choice between left or right. He chooses right and approximately 150 yards from the residence he hits a land mine that is later judged to contain hundreds of pounds of explosives. Ewart-Biggs and fellow passenger and civil servant Judith Cooke (aged 26) are killed. Driver Brian O’Driscoll and third passenger Brian Cubbon (aged 57) are injured. Cubbon is the highest-ranking civil servant in Northern Ireland at the time.

The Irish government launches a manhunt involving 4,000 Gardaí and 2,000 soldiers. Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave declares that “this atrocity fills all decent Irish people with a sense of shame.” In London, Prime Minister James Callaghan condemns the assassins as a “common enemy whom we must destroy or be destroyed by.” Thirteen suspected members of the IRA are arrested during raids as the British and Irish governments attempt to apprehend the criminals, but no one is ever convicted of the killings. In 2006, released Foreign and Commonwealth Office files reveal that the Gardaí had matched a partial fingerprint at the scene to Martin Taylor, an IRA member suspected of gun running from the United States.

Ewart-Biggs’s widow, Jane Ewart-Biggs, becomes a Life Peer in the House of Lords, campaigns to improve Anglo-Irish relations and establishes the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize for literature.

(Pictured: The twisted remains of the car lie upended beside a huge crater after the explosion that killed Christopher Ewart-Biggs and civil servant Judith Cooke)