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


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Birth of Irish Politician Mary MacSwiney

Mary MacSwiney, Irish politician and educationalist, is born in London on March 27, 1872, to an Irish father and English mother. In 1927 she becomes leader of Sinn Féin when Éamon de Valera resigns from the presidency of the party.

MacSwiney returns to Ireland with her family at the age of six and is educated at St. Angela’s School in Cork. At the age of twenty, she obtains a teaching post at a private school in England and studies for a Teaching Diploma at the University of Cambridge, which is normally reserved for men.

Influenced by her younger brother Terence MacSwiney‘s staunch Irish republicanism, MacSwiney joins the Gaelic League and Inghinidhe na hÉireann. She is a founder member of Cumann na mBan when it is formed in 1914 in Cork and becomes a National Vice-President of the organisation. She leads the denunciation of British rule at the Convention of November 1914. In 1916 she is arrested and imprisoned following the Easter Rising and is also dismissed from her teaching position due to her republican activities. Several months later, upon her release from prison, she and her sister Annie re-found Scoil Íte, a sister school to Patrick Pearse‘s St. Enda’s School, and she remains involved with the school for the rest of her life.

MacSwiney supports the Irish War of Independence in 1919–21. After the death of her brother Terence in October 1920 on hunger strike during the height of the war, she is elected for Sinn Féin to the Cork Borough constituency in 1921. She gives evidence in Washington, D.C., before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. For nine months she and Terence’s widow, Muriel, tour the United States lecturing and giving interviews.

MacSwiney is active in her friendship with Harry Boland and de Valera, whom she cultivates assiduously. In October 1921, a second delegation is to be sent to London which for the first time includes Michael Collins. MacSwiney, who remains implacably opposed, pleads with de Valera to be allowed to go. She is refused as de Valera thinks her to be “too extreme.” She strongly opposes the Anglo-Irish Treaty, debating during December 1921 to January 1922 to resume the war. On December 21 she speaks for three hours, criticising the agreement from all angles.

MacSwiney is arrested at Nell Ryan’s home, a safe house, at 40 Herbert Park, Ballsbridge, on November 4, 1922, when it is raided by Free State soldiers. She is interned at Mountjoy Gaol and immediately goes on hunger strike. Cumann na mBan organizes vigils outside the prison in protest of Mary’s and the others internment. The Women’s Prisoner’s Defence League is formed in August 1922 to protect their rights. During the hunger strike she refuses doctor’s visits and is resigned to her death. Her condition is critical and she is given the Last Rites by a Catholic priest. The Government is not prepared to allow strikers die so she is released.

En route to Liam Lynch‘s funeral, MacSwiney is again arrested when the car in which she is riding is stopped and she is recognised. She is taken with Kate O’Callaghan to Kilmainham Gaol. Fearless of death, she begins another protest. They continued to be interned without charge, but it is explained she is distributing anti-government propaganda. After nineteen days of hunger strike she is due to be released on April 30, 1923. The Governor allows O’Callaghan to go but stays a decision on MacSwiney. Most of the women on hunger strike are sent to the North Dublin Union.

MacSwiney retains her seat at the 1923 general election and, along with other Sinn Féin members, refuses to enter the Dáil Éireann.

In March 1926 the party holds its Ard Fheis. MacSwiney and Father Michael O’Flanagan lead the section from which Éamon de Valera and Fianna Fáil break away. De Valera has come to believe that abstentionism is not a workable tactic and now sees the need to become the elected government of the Dáil. The conference instructs a joint committee of representatives from the two sections to arrange a basis for co-operation. That day, it issues a statement declaring “the division within our ranks is a division of Republicans.” The next day, de Valera’s motion to accept the Free State Constitution, contingent upon the abolition of the Oath of Allegiance, narrowly fails by a vote of 223 to 218. However, de Valera takes the great majority of Sinn Féin support with him when he founds Fianna Fáil.

MacSwiney continues to maintain a republican position until her death. By then she is vice-president of Sinn Féin and Cumann na mBan but loses her seat at the June 1927 general election. When lack of funds prevent Sinn Féin contesting the second election called that year, MacSwiney declares “no true Irish citizen can vote for any of the other parties.”

Mary MacSwiney dies at her home in Cork on March 8, 1942. Her stance, both before and after the Treaty, may be summed up by her statement, “A rebel is one who opposes lawfully constituted authority and that I have never done.”

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Michael Collins Made President of the IRB

michael-collinsMichael Collins, who is also a leader in the Irish Republican Army, is made president of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) on June 28, 1919.

At the start of the 20th century, the IRB is a stagnating organisation, concerned more with Dublin municipal politics than the establishment of a republic. A younger generation of Ulster republicans aim to change this and, in 1905, Denis McCullough and Bulmer Hobson found the Dungannon Clubs, whose purpose is to discourage enlistment into the British Army and encourage enlistment into the IRB.

In 1909, Michael Collins is introduced to the brotherhood by Sam Maguire. By 1914, the Supreme Council is largely purged of its older, tired leadership, and is dominated by enthusiastic men such as Hobson, McCullough, Patrick McCartan, John MacBride, Seán Mac Diarmada, and Tom Clarke. The latter two are to become the primary instigators of the Easter Rising in 1916.

Following the Rising some republicans, notably Éamon de Valera and Cathal Brugha, leave the organization as they view it as no longer necessary since the Irish Volunteers now perform its function. The IRB, during the War of Independence (1919-1921), is under the control of Michael Collins, who initially is secretary and subsequently, on June 28, 1919, is made president of the Supreme Council.

When the Anglo-Irish Treaty is signed on December 6, 1921, it is debated by the Supreme Council, which votes to accept it by an 11-4 vote. Those who oppose the Treaty include former leader Harry Boland, Austin Stack, and Liam Lynch. Anti-Treaty republicans like Ernie O’Malley, who fought during the Civil War against the Treaty, see the IRB as being used to undermine the Irish Republic.

The IRB becomes quiescent during the Irish Civil War, which ends in May 1923, but it emerges again later that year as a faction within the National Army. It supports Minister for Defence Richard Mulcahy against the “Old IRA,” which fights against the recruitment of ex-British Army personnel and the demobilization of old IRA men. This comes to a head with the Army Mutiny of 1924, in the wake of which Mulcahy resigns and other IRB members of the army are dismissed by acting President of the Executive Council Kevin O’Higgins. The IRB subsequently dissolves itself, although it is not known whether a formal decision is made or it simply ceases to function.


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Éamon de Valera Escapes from Lincoln Gaol

boland-collins-devaleraÉamon de Valera, along with Seán McGarry and Seán Milroy, escape from Lincoln Gaol in Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England on February 3, 1919.  The escape plot is engineered by fellow Sinn Féin members Harry Boland and Michael Collins (pictured to the left of de Valera).

After his participation as a leader of the Easter Rising of 1916, de Valera is arrested and sentenced to death for his role in the uprising, but the sentence is later commuted due to his American citizenship. Following his release from prison in 1916, he quickly gains fame on the Irish political scene, ultimately becoming the leader of Sinn Féin. He also gains notoriety amongst the British political elites, which ensures his eventual re-arrest and imprisonment in Lincoln Gaol.

De Valera is sent to Lincoln Gaol presumably for his participation in a “German Plot” against the British. Once incarcerated at Lincoln, de Valera, wanting to embarrass the English, quickly begins to plan his escape with the assistance of Milroy and McGarry. Irish Republicans on the outside, including Boland and Collins, also assist in the planning.

Open fields surrounded by barbed wire are to the rear and east of the prison. The Republicans hope to use this to their advantage by sneaking de Valera through a rear door. The plans are sung in Gaelic to de Valera through a window in his cell by a fellow Irish inmate in order to confuse the guards. The first song tells him of the escape route and the second gives him instructions to obtain a copy of the master-key for the prison.

De Valera, being a deeply religious man, is active in the prison’s chapel from the beginning his internment. Using his connections within the chapel, over time he manages to steal candles from the altar. While Mass is being read, he “borrows” the master-key of the chaplain and makes an impression of it in the candle wax. The mould is then wrapped in paper and tossed over the prison wall so a duplicate can be made.

The key is duplicated and smuggled back into the prison concealed in a cake and the escape begins on the evening of February 3, 1919. While Collins and other members of Sinn Féin cut through the barbed wire, a group of Irish girls are sent to flirt with the prison guards to ensure they are preoccupied. With the guards’ attention diverted, de Valera, wrapped in a fur coat, McGarry, and Milroy are able to walk to the back door of the prison and, after some difficulty with the key, walk away from the prison.

They stroll down Wragby Road to the Adam & Eve Pub where a taxi driver, unaware of who his passengers are, awaits them. De Valera is swiftly moved to the railway station where they split up. Collins and Boland catch a train to London from St. Mark’s while the rest drive to Worksop where another innocent taxi driver drives them to Sheffield. De Valera then returns to Ireland briefly before traveling on to the United States. The prison officials, realizing that the men will be virtually impossible to locate, concede defeat after a one day search of the city.

The escape from Lincoln Gaol is major news and is covered in all the national papers. Prison officials blame the escape on the ability of special prisoners to interact with the general prison population. The escape proves to be an important moment in Irish history – when a cake, a wax key, and some pretty Irish girls help spring the future Irish president from Lincoln Gaol.