seamus dubhghaill

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


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Hanging of Peter Barnes & James Richards

peter-barnes-and-james-mccormackIrish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers Peter Barnes and James Richards are hanged in Winston Green Prison in Birmingham, England on February 7, 1940 for their involvement in a bombing in Coventry the previous year which killed five people.

Barnes and Richards (also known as James McCormack) are members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and participate in the August 25, 1939 Coventry bombing which kills five people. Although they both admit to constructing the bomb, which is intended to be used to destroy a power station, they claim not to be involved in planting the bomb.

Seán MacBride, a former Chief of Staff of the IRA and Irish barrister, attempts to secure their release claiming they are being illegally held without a writ of habeas corpus. However, both are charged with murder on December 12 along with Brigid O’Hara and Joseph and Mary Hewitt. All five plead not guilty before the court at Birmingham Assizes.

Brigid O’Hara issues statements between August 28 and September 4 to Scotland Yard and Birmingham City Police denying any knowledge of the bombings and later provides evidence for the prosecution. Found guilty of murder on December 15, Barnes and Richards are hanged at Winston Green Prison in Birmingham on February 7, 1940. Their remains are returned to Dublin in 1969.

The reinterment in Mullingar, County Westmeath is attended by an estimated 15,000 people. Mass is said in Irish in the Cathedral before the funeral to Ballyglass Cemetery. Among those attending are three brothers of Peter Barnes and a sister and brother of McCormack.

The trial and execution results in a public outcry in Ireland against Neville Chamberlain and the British Government as Peadar O’Donnell and other prominent Irish writers sign a petition campaigning for leniency towards the condemned men.


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Birth of Samuel Haughton, Scientist, Mathematician & Doctor

samuel-haughtonSamuel Haughton, scientist, mathematician, and doctor, is born in Carlow, County Carlow on December 21, 1821. He is “famous” for calculating the drop required to kill a hanged man instantly.

Haughton is the son of James Haughton. His father, the son of a Quaker, but himself a Unitarian, is an active philanthropist, a strong supporter of Father Theobald Mathew, a vegetarian, and an anti-slavery worker and writer.

Haughton has a distinguished career at Trinity College, Dublin and in 1844 he is elected a fellow. Working on mathematical models under James MacCullagh, he is awarded in 1848 the Cunningham Medal by the Royal Irish Academy. In 1847 he has his ordination to the priesthood but he is not someone who preaches. He is appointed as professor of geology at Trinity College in 1851 and holds the position for thirty years. He begins to study medicine in 1859. He earns his MD degree in 1862 from the University of Dublin.

Haughton becomes registrar of the Medical School. He focuses on improving the status of the school and representing the university on the General Medical Council from 1878 to 1896. In 1858 he is elected fellow of the Royal Society. He gains honorary degrees from Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh. At Trinity College Dublin he moves the first-ever motion at the Academic Council to admit women to the University on March 10, 1880. Through his work as Professor of Geology and his involvement with the Royal Zoological Society, he has witnessed the enthusiasm and contribution of women in the natural sciences. Although thwarted by opponents on the Council he continues to campaign for the admission of women to TCD until his death in 1897. It is 1902 before his motion is finally passed, five years after his death.

In 1866, Haughton develops the original equations for hanging as a humane method of execution, whereby the neck is broken at the time of the drop, so that the condemned person does not slowly strangle to death. “On hanging considered from a Mechanical and Physiological point of view” is published in the London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, Vol. 32 No. 213 (July 1866), calling for a drop energy of 2,240 ft-lbs. From 1886 to 1888, he serves as a member of the Capital Sentences Committee, the report of which suggests an Official Table of Drops based on 1,260 ft-lbs of energy.

Haughton writes papers on many subjects for journals in London and Dublin. His topics include the laws of equilibrium, the motion of solid and fluid bodies, sun-heat, radiation, climates and tides. His papers cover the granites of Leinster and Donegal and the cleavage and joint-planes of the Old Red Sandstone of Waterford.

Haughton is president of the Royal Irish Academy from 1886 to 1891, and secretary of the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland for twenty years. In 1880 he gives the Croonian Lecture on animal mechanics to the Royal Society.

Haughton is also involved in the Dublin and Kingstown Railway company, in which he looks after the building of the first locomotives. It is the first railway company in the world to build its own locomotives.

Samuel Haughton dies on October 31, 1897 and is buried in the Church of the Holy Cross Cemetery in Killeshin, County Laois.


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Execution of the Manchester Martyrs

manchester-martyrs-monumentFenians William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien, known as the Manchester Martyrs, are publicly hanged for the murder of a police officer in Manchester, England on November 23, 1867, during an incident that becomes known as the Manchester Outrages.

The three are members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, also known as the Fenians, an organisation dedicated to ending British rule in Ireland, and are among a group of 30–40 Fenians who attack a horse-drawn police van transporting two arrested leaders of the Brotherhood, Thomas J. Kelly and Timothy Deasy, to Belle Vue Gaol. Police Sergeant Charles Brett, traveling inside with the keys, is shot and killed as the attackers attempt to force the van open by blowing the lock. Kelly and Deasy are released after another prisoner in the van takes the keys from Brett’s body and passes them to the group outside through a ventilation grill. The pair escape and make their way to safety in the United States. They are never recaptured, despite an extensive search.

Two others are also charged and found guilty of Brett’s murder, Thomas Maguire and Edward O’Meagher Condon, but their death sentences are overturned — O’Meagher Condon’s through the intercession of the United States government as he is an American citizen, and Maguire’s because the evidence given against him is considered unsatisfactory. Allen, Larkin, and O’Brien are publicly hanged on a temporary structure built on the wall of Salford Gaol on November 23, 1867, in front of a crowd of 8,000–10,000 people.

The bodies of the three men are buried in the New Bailey Prison graveyard, from which they are transferred to Strangeways Prison cemetery when New Bailey Prison is closed in 1868. In 1991 their remains are cremated and reinterred at Blackley Cemetery in Manchester.

Brett is the first Manchester City Police officer to be killed on duty, and he is memorialised in a monument in St. Ann’s Church. Allen, Larkin, and O’Brien are also memorialised, both in Manchester, where the Irish community makes up more than 10 percent of the population, and in Ireland, where they are regarded by many as inspirational heroes.

(Pictured: Manchester Martyrs monument, Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin)


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The Siege of Smerwick

smerwick-massacre-memorialFollowing a three-day siege, the English Army beheads over 600 Papal soldiers and civilians at Dún an Óir, County Kerry on November 10, 1580.

On November 5, a naval force led by Admiral Sir William Wynter arrives at Smerwick Harbour, replenishing the supplies of Arthur Grey, 14th Baron Grey de Wilton, who is camped at Dingle, and landing eight artillery pieces. On November 7, Lord Grey de Wilton lays siege to the Smerwick garrison. The invading forces are geographically isolated on the tip of the narrow Dingle Peninsula, cut off by Mount Brandon, one of the highest mountains in Ireland, on one side and the much larger English force on the other. The English forces begin the artillery barrage on Dún an Óir on the morning of the November 8, which rapidly breaks down the improvised defences of the fort.

After a three-day siege, the commander Sebastiano di San Giuseppe surrenders on November 10. Accounts vary on whether they had been granted quarter. Grey de Wilton orders the summary executions, sparing only the commanders. Grey has also heard that the main Irish rebel army of 4,000 are somewhere in the hills to his east, looking to be rearmed and supplied by Di San Giuseppe, and they might in turn surround his army but this army never appears.

According to Grey de Wilton’s account, contained in a despatch to Queen Elizabeth I dated November 11, 1580, he rejects an approach made by the besieged Spanish and Italian forces to agree to terms of a conditional surrender in which they would cede the fort and leave. Lord Grey de Wilton claims that he insisted that they surrender without preconditions and put themselves at his mercy, and that he subsequently rejects a request for a ceasefire. An agreement is finally made for an unconditional surrender the next morning, with hostages being taken by English forces to ensure compliance. The following morning, an English force enters the fort to secure and guard armaments and supplies.

Local historian Margaret Anna Cusack notes in 1871 that there is a degree of controversy about Lord Grey de Wilton’s version of events to Elizabeth, and identifies three other contemporary accounts, by O’Daly, O’Sullivan Beare and Russell, which contradict it. According to these versions, Grey de Wilton promises the garrison their lives in return for their surrender, a promise which he breaks. Like Grey himself, none of these commentators can be described as neutral, as they are all either serving the state or opposed to it. Cusack’s interpretation of the events cannot be described as unbiased, given her position as a Catholic nun and fervent Irish nationalist at the time.

According to Cusack, the few that are spared suffer a worse fate. They are offered life if they renounce their Catholic faith. On refusal, their arms and legs are broken in three places by an ironsmith. They are left in agony for a day and night and then hanged.

According to the folklore of the area, the execution of the captives takes two days, with many of the captives being beheaded in a field known locally in Irish as Gort a Ghearradh (the Field of the Cutting). Their bodies are later thrown into the sea. Archaeologists have not yet discovered human remains at the site, although a nearby field is known as Gort na gCeann (the Field of the Heads) and local folklore recalls the massacre.

(Pictured: A memorial to the victims of the massacre at Dún an Óir)


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Birth of Henry Joy McCracken, Irish Republican

henry-joy-mccrackenHenry Joy McCracken, Irish Republican and industrialist, is born in Belfast on August 31, 1767. He is a founding member of the Society of the United Irishmen.

McCracken is born into two of the city’s most prominent Presbyterian industrial families. He was the son of a shipowner, Captain John McCracken and Ann Joy, daughter of Francis Joy, of French Huguenot descent. The Joy family made their money in linen manufacture and founded the Belfast News Letter. He is the older brother of political activist and social reformer Mary Ann McCracken, with whom he shares an interest in Irish traditional culture.

In 1792, McCracken helps organise the Belfast Harp Festival which gathers aged harpists from around Ireland, and helps preserve the Irish airs by having them transcribed by Edward Bunting. Bunting, who lodges in the McCracken’s Rosemary Lane home, is a classically trained musician.

McCracken becomes interested in republican politics from an early age and along with other Protestants forms the Society of the United Irishmen in 1795 which quickly makes him a target of the authorities. He regularly travels throughout the country using his business as a cover for organising other United Irish societies, but is arrested in October 1796 and imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. While imprisoned with other leaders of the United Irishmen, he falls seriously ill and is released on bail in December 1797.

Following the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 in Leinster in May 1798, the County Antrim organisation meets on 3 June to decide on their response. The meeting ends inconclusively with a vote to wait for French aid being passed by a narrow margin. A new meeting of delegates is held in Templepatrick on June 5 where McCracken is elected general for Antrim and he quickly begins planning military operations.

McCracken formulates a plan for all small towns in Antrim to be seized after which rebels will converge upon Antrim town on June 7 where the county’s magistrates are to hold a crisis meeting. Although the plan meets initial success and McCracken leads the rebels in the attack on Antrim, the Catholic Defenders group whom he expects assistance from are conspicuous by their absence. The mainly Ulster Scots rebels led by McCracken are defeated by the English forces and his army melts away.

Although McCracken initially escapes with James Hope, James Orr, and James Dickey and is supported in his month long period of hiding by his sister Mary Ann, a chance encounter with men who recognize him from his cotton business leads to his arrest. He is offered clemency if he testifies against other United Irishmen leaders but he refuses to turn on his compatriots.

McCracken is court martialed and hanged at Corn Market, Belfast, on land his grandfather had donated to the city, on July 17, 1798. According to historian Guy Beiner, his corpse is spared the indignity of decapitation in order not to provoke renewed agitation. He is buried in the Parish Church of St. George in Belfast, but a few years later the grave is demolished.

McCracken’s remains are believed to have been re-interred by Francis Joseph Bigger in 1909 at Clifton Street Cemetery, Belfast, alongside his sister Mary Ann. His illegitimate daughter Maria, whose mother is speculated to have been Mary Bodell, is raised by her aunt Mary Ann McCracken.


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The Death of Theobald Wolfe Tone

theobald-wolfe-toneTheobald Wolfe Tone, Irish republican and rebel who sought to overthrow English rule in Ireland and who led a French military force to Ireland during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, dies at Provost’s Prison, Dublin on November 19, 1798 from a stab wound to his neck which he inflicted upon himself on November 12. His attempted suicide is the result of being refused a soldier’s execution by firing squad and being sentenced to death by hanging.

Wolfe Tone is born in Dublin on June 20, 1763. The son of a coach maker, he studies law and is called to the Irish bar in 1789 but soon gives up his practice. In October 1791 he helps found the Society of United Irishmen, initially a predominantly Protestant organization that works for parliamentary reforms, such as universal suffrage and Roman Catholic emancipation. In Dublin in 1792 he organizes a Roman Catholic convention of elected delegates that forces Parliament to pass the Catholic Relief Act of 1793. He himself, however, is anticlerical and hopes for a general revolt against religious creeds in Ireland as a sequel to the attainment of Irish political freedom.

By 1794 Wolfe Tone and his United Irishmen friends begin to seek armed aid from Revolutionary France to help overthrow English rule. After an initial effort fails, he goes to the United States and obtains letters of introduction from the French minister at Philadelphia to the Committee of Public Safety in Paris. In February 1796 he arrives in the French capital, presents his plan for a French invasion of Ireland, and is favourably received. The Directory then appoints one of the most brilliant young French generals, Lazare Hoche, to command the expedition and makes Tone an adjutant in the French army.

On December 16, 1796, Wolfe Tone sails from Brest with 43 ships and nearly 14,000 men. But the ships are badly handled and, after reaching the coast of west Cork and Kerry, are dispersed by a storm. He again brings an Irish invasion plan to Paris in October 1797, but the principal French military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, takes little interest. When insurrection breaks out in Ireland in May 1798, Wolfe Tone can only obtain enough French forces to make small raids on different parts of the Irish coast. In September he enters Lough Swilly, Donegal, with 3,000 men and is captured there.

At his trial in Dublin on November 10, Wolfe Tone defiantly proclaims his undying hostility to England and his desire “in fair and open war to produce the separation of the two countries.” He is found guilty and is sentenced to be hanged. Early in the morning of November 12, 1798, the day he is to be hanged, he cuts his throat with a penknife and dies at the age of 35 in Provost’s Prison, Dublin, not far from where he was born. He is buried in Bodenstown, County Kildare, near his birthplace, and his grave is in the care of the National Graves Association.


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The Execution of Edward “Ned” Kelly

ned-kellyEdward “Ned” Kelly, Australian bushranger, outlaw, gang leader and convicted police murderer, is hanged at Old Melbourne Jail in Australia on November 11, 1880. One of the last bushrangers, and by far the most famous, he is best known for wearing a suit of bulletproof armour during his final shootout with the police.

Kelly is born in the British colony of Victoria as the third of eight children to John “Red” Kelly (born 1820 in County Tipperary), and Ellen (née Quinn). The exact date of his birth is not known, but a number of lines of evidence, including a 1963 interview with family descendants Paddy and Charles Griffiths, a record from his mother, and a note from a school inspector, all suggest his birth was in December 1854. He is baptised by an Augustinian priest, Charles O’Hea, who also administers last rites to Kelly before his execution. His father, a transported convict, dies shortly after serving a six-month prison sentence, leaving Kelly, then aged 12, as the eldest male of the household. The Kellys are a poor selector family who see themselves as downtrodden by the Squattocracy and as victims of police persecution.

While a teenager, Kelly is arrested for associating with bushranger Harry Power, and serves two prison terms for a variety of offences, the longest stretch being from 1871 to 1874 on a conviction of receiving a stolen horse. He later joins the “Greta mob”, a group of bush larrikins known for stock theft. A violent confrontation with a policeman occurs at the Kelly family’s home in 1878, and he is indicted of attempted murder. Fleeing to the bush, he vows to avenge his mother, who is imprisoned for her role in the incident. After he, his brother Dan, and two associates, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart, fatally shoot three policemen, the Government of Victoria proclaims them outlaws.

Kelly and his gang elude the police for two years, thanks in part to the support of an extensive network of sympathisers. The gang’s crime spree includes armed bank robberies at Euroa and Jerilderie, and the killing of Aaron Sherritt, a sympathiser turned police informer. In a manifesto letter, Kelly, denouncing the police, the Victorian government and the British Empire, sets down his own account of the events leading up to his outlawry. Demanding justice for his family and the rural poor, he threatens dire consequences against those who defy him.

In 1880, when Kelly’s attempt to derail and ambush a police train fails, he and his gang, dressed in armour fashioned from stolen plough mouldboards, engage in a final gun battle with the police at Glenrowan. Kelly, the only survivor, is severely wounded by police fire and is captured. Despite thousands of supporters attending rallies and signing a petition for his reprieve, he stands trial on October 19, 1880 in Melbourne before Sir Redmond Barry. The trial is adjourned to October 28, when Kelly is presented on the charge of the murder of the three policemen, the various bank robberies, the murder of Sherritt, resisting arrest at Glenrowan and a long list of minor charges. He is convicted of the willful murder of one of the officers and sentenced to death by hanging. After handing down the sentence, Barry concludes with the customary words, “May God have mercy on your soul,” to which Kelly replies, “I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there where I go.”

On November 3, the Executive Council of Victoria decides that Kelly is to be hanged eight days later, November 11, at the Melbourne Gaol. In the week leading up to the execution, thousands turn out at street rallies across Melbourne demanding a reprieve for Kelly. On November 8, a petition for clemency with over 32,000 signatures is presented to the governor’s private secretary. The Executive Council announces soon after that the hanging would proceed as scheduled.

The day before his execution, Kelly has his photographic portrait taken as a keepsake for his family and is granted farewell interviews with relatives. The following morning, John Castieau, the Governor of the Gaol, informs him that the hour of execution has been fixed at 10:00 AM. His leg irons are removed and, after a short time, he is marched out. He is submissive on the way, and when passing the gaol’s flower beds, remarks, “What a nice little garden,” but says nothing further until reaching the Press room, where he remains until the arrival of chaplain Dean Donaghy. His last words are famously reported to have been, “Such is life.”

Historian Geoffrey Serle calls Kelly and his gang “the last expression of the lawless frontier in what was becoming a highly organised and educated society, the last protest of the mighty bush now tethered with iron rails to Melbourne and the world.” In the century after his death, Kelly becomes a cultural icon, inspiring countless works in the arts, and is the subject of more biographies than any other Australian. He continues to cause division in his homeland as some celebrate him as Australia’s equivalent of Robin Hood while others regard him as a murderous villain undeserving of his folk hero status. Journalist Martin Flanagan writes, “What makes Ned a legend is not that everyone sees him the same—it’s that everyone sees him. Like a bushfire on the horizon casting its red glow into the night.”