seamus dubhghaill

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


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The 1921 Drumcondra Ambush

tolka-bridge-drumcondraAn encounter between eight young Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers and a large body of the Black and Tans takes place at Tolka Bridge in Drumcondra on January 21, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

On Friday, January 21, 1921, eight men from the 1st Battalion IRA, set out to stage an ambush at Binn’s Bridge on Lower Drumcondra Road. The plan is to attack a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) patrol which uses the road to travel from their base at Gormanston, County Meath, near Drogheda.

Led by Lieutenant Francis “Frank” Flood (19), Michael Francis ‘Mick’ Magee (24) Patrick Doyle (29), Thomas Bryan (24), Bernard ‘Bertie’ Ryan (21) and Dermott O’Sullivan (17) set off at 8:30 AM for Binn’s Bridge. They are to ambush RIC Auxiliaries (Black and Tans) travelling into Dublin from Gormanston. However, the Auxiliaries do not arrive. The witness statement of Harry Colley, former Adjutant, IRA Dublin Brigade 1920-21, says “they had actually been sent to carry out the ambush at Binn’s Bridge, but for some reason of their own, when they reached the position, moved up beyond Tolka Bridge, to Clonturk Park.” According to Dermott O’Sullivan, the only survivor, when it appears that the Black and Tans will not be coming their way, the party leaves the Binn’s Bridge site and heads to Tolka Bridge in Drumcondra.

However, the police receive a tip-off from Sergeant Singleton of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP). It is also said, that as the British army unit is approaching the bridge over the River Tolka in Drumcondra, they are warned by a man by the name Robert Pike from Tolka Cottages.

The ambushers commence an attack upon two lorries of RIC constables, who return fire until the vehicles are able to accelerate out of range. Then the Black and Tans arrive in motor lorries and an armored car at the rear of their position to cut off their escape. Some volunteers manage to dash across fields to safety but others are arrested as they attempted to seek refuge in houses in the vicinity. All of the prisoners are found in possession of revolvers and ammunition, and Frank Flood is also found to have a grenade in his pocket.

In an attempt to escape the Auxiliaries, Michael Magee and Séan Burke run across a field of garden allotments in Clonturk Park. The Auxiliaries shoot Magee, mortally wounding him in the legs and lower torso. Magee is captured but soon dies of his wounds.

So at the end of the day, of the eight men involved in the action at Drumcondra, two men, Burke and Dunne, escape the scene. The five remaining, Frank Flood, Thomas Bryan, Bernard Ryan, Patrick Doyle and Dermot O’Sullivan are captured and Magee dies of his wounds. The captives are tried by a court-martial that lasts two days. All of the accused are convicted of High Treason and sentenced to death.

On March 14, 1921, all of the men, save Dermot O’Sullivan, are hanged at Mountjoy Prison. Citing his age of only 17 years, the British commute O’Sullivan’s sentence to life in prison. He is released from Portland Gaol at the end of August 1921.

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Death of William Smith O’Brien, Young Ireland Leader

william-smith-obrienWilliam Smith O’Brien, Irish nationalist Member of Parliament (MP) and leader of the Young Ireland movement, dies in Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales on June 18, 1864.

Born in Dromoland, Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare, O’Brien is the second son of Sir Edward O’Brien, 4th Baronet, of Dromoland Castle. His mother is Charlotte Smith, whose father owns a property called Cahirmoyle in County Limerick. He takes the additional surname Smith, his mother’s maiden name, upon inheriting the property. He lives at Cahermoyle House, a mile from Ardagh, County Limerick. He is a descendant of the eleventh century Ard Rí (High King of Ireland), Brian Boru. He receives an upper-class English education at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge. Subsequently, he studies law at King’s Inns in Dublin and Lincoln’s Inn in London.

From April 1828 to 1831 O’Brien is Conservative MP for Ennis. He becomes MP for Limerick County in 1835, holding his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom until 1849.

Although a Protestant country-gentleman, O’Brien supports Catholic emancipation while remaining a supporter of British-Irish union. In 1843, in protest against the imprisonment of Daniel O’Connell, he joins O’Connell’s anti-union Repeal Association.

Three years later, O’Brien withdraws the Young Irelanders from the association. In January 1847, with Thomas Francis Meagher, he founds the Irish Confederation, although he continues to preach reconciliation until O’Connell’s death in May 1847. He is active in seeking relief from the hardships of the famine. In March 1848, he speaks out in favour of a National Guard and tries to incite a national rebellion. He is tried for sedition on May 15, 1848 but is not convicted.

On July 29, 1848, O’Brien and other Young Irelanders lead landlords and tenants in a rising in three counties, with an almost bloodless battle against police at Ballingarry, County Tipperary. In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England. In Dublin on June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania in present-day Australia).

O’Brien attempts to escape from Maria Island off Tasmania, but is betrayed by the captain of the schooner hired for the escape. He is sent to Port Arthur where he meets up with John Mitchel.

O’Brien is a founding member of the Ossianic Society, which is founded in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day 1853, whose aim is to further the interests of the Irish language and to publish and translate literature relating to the Fianna. He writes to his son Edward from Van Diemen’s Land, urging him to learn the Irish language. He himself studies the language and uses an Irish-language Bible, and presents to the Royal Irish Academy Irish-language manuscripts he has collected.

In 1854, after five years in Tasmania, O’Brien is released on the condition he never returns to Ireland. He settles in Brussels. In May 1856, he is granted an unconditional pardon and returns to Ireland that July. He contributes to the Nation newspaper, but plays no further part in politics.

In 1864 he visits England and Wales, with the view of rallying his failing health, but no improvement takes place and he dies at Bangor, in Wales on June 16, 1864.

A statue of William Smith O’Brien stands in O’Connell Street, Dublin. Sculpted in Portland limestone, it is designed by Thomas Farrell and erected in D’Olier Street, Dublin, in 1870. It is moved to its present position in 1929.


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Execution of James Cotter the Younger

cotter-family-burial-spotJames Cotter the Younger, the son of Sir James Fitz Edmond Cotter who had commanded King James‘s Irish Army forces in the Counties of Cork, Limerick, and Kerry, and Eleanor/Ellen Plunkett, daughter of Matthew, 7th Baron Louth, is executed on May 7, 1720 for high treason in supporting the Jacobite cause. His death is seen by many, especially within the Catholic population of Ireland, as a form of political assassination.

At the time of his death Cotter is seen, like his father before him, as the natural leader of the Catholics of Cork. He is also a prominent patron of poetry and other literature in the Irish language. The Irish text Párliament na mBan or ‘The Parliament of Women’ is dedicated by its author, Domhnall Ó Colmáin,’ to a young James Cotter in 1697. As one of the few major landowners of the Catholic faith remaining in Ireland, and as a man of known Jacobite and Tory sympathies he is distrusted by the authorities. He is also held in suspicion by those of his landed neighbours who are part of the Protestant Ascendancy and of Whiggish political views. Amongst his overt political actions he is believed to play a leading part in the instigation of the election riots of 1713 in Dublin. His trial, ostensibly for rape, is a cause célèbre at the time and widely seen as an example of judicial murder.

Though married, Cotter has a reputation as a ladies’ man. His wealth allows him to flaunt his independence of the Protestant ruling class and anti-Catholic laws of Ireland. These characteristics, allied to his political activities, lead to his downfall. He makes an enemy of a powerful neighbour, Alan Brodrick, 1st Viscount Midleton. Brodrick, it appears, arranges that Cotter be accused of abducting and raping a young Quaker woman named Elizabeth Squibb, reported by some to have been Cotter’s mistress. When news of this trumped-up or exaggerated charge reaches Cork City, the Quakers of the town live in fear of their lives for many weeks. Believing the charge cannot hold up in court, Cotter gives himself up to the Cork sheriff.

The judge presiding on the case is Sir St. John Brodrick who, as a close relative of James Cotter’s accuser, is hardly impartial. The jury has also been packed as all twelve of its members are justices of the peace. The trial takes place in a period of heightened rumour of Jacobite invasion. A large number of arms for cavalry are found in Cork which triggers a scare until it is discovered that they are government owned and intended for a local militia unit. James Cotter is held in jail, though bail has been granted, and is convicted of the crime.

A bizarre element in Cotter’s downfall are the pleas for mercy expressed by both the jury which has convicted him and Elizabeth Squibb, his alleged victim. Attempts to gain a pardon in Dublin are proceeding and a stay of execution is sent, however, the hanging is deliberately brought forward and the stay does not arrive in time. Cotter has attempted to escape and spends the night before his execution in chains. The gallows erected for the execution are destroyed by some of the citizens of Cork and the hanging is extemporised using a rope attached to a metal staple in a vertical post. James Cotter is hanged in Cork City on May 7, 1720. News of his execution triggers widespread riots on a national scale. He is buried in his family’s vault at Carrigtwohill.

Some have seen the death of James Cotter as the working of a family feud. His father had been intimately involved in the assassination of the regicide John Lisle in Switzerland (1664). The wife of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at the time of James Cotter’s trial is a granddaughter of John Lisle.

Up to twenty poems in Gaelic survive which reflect the widespread dismay felt at James Cotter’s execution, including ones by Éadbhard de Nógla, son of his close friend, the lawyer Patrick Nagle.

(Pictured: the Cotter Family burial vault in Carrigtwohill)


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Execution of Robert Emmet, Irish Nationalist & Republican

Robert Emmet, Irish nationalist and Republican, orator and rebel leader, is hung, drawn, and quartered in Dublin on September 20, 1803, following his conviction for high treason.

Emmet is born at 109 St. Stephen’s Green, in Dublin on March 4, 1778, the youngest son of Dr. Robert Emmet, a court physician, and his wife, Elizabeth Mason. He attends Oswald’s school, in Dopping’s-court, off Golden-lane and enters Trinity College, Dublin in October 1793, at the age of fifteen. He becomes secretary of a secret United Irish Committee in college, and is expelled in April 1798 as a result. That same year he flees to France to avoid the many British arrests of nationalists that are taking place in Ireland.

After the 1798 rising, Emmet is involved in reorganising the defeated Society of United Irishmen. In April 1799 a warrant is issued for his arrest. He escapes and soon after travels to the continent in the hope of securing French military aid. His efforts are unsuccessful, as Napoleon is concentrating his efforts on invading England.

Emmet returns to Ireland in October 1802 and, along with fellow revolutionaries Thomas Russell and James Hope, begins preparations for another uprising in March of the following year. A premature explosion at one of Emmet’s arms depots forces him to advance the date of the rising before the authorities’ suspicions are aroused.

Emmet is unable to secure the help of Michael Dwyer‘s Wicklow rebels. Many rebels from Kildare turn back due to the scarcity of firearms they had been promised, but the rising proceeds in Dublin on the evening of July 23, 1803. Failing to seize Dublin Castle, which is lightly defended, the rising amounts to a large-scale disturbance in the Thomas Street area. He sees a dragoon pulled from his horse and piked to death, the sight of which prompts him to call off the rising to avoid further bloodshed but he has no control over of his followers. Sporadic clashes continue into the night until finally quelled by British military forces.

Emmet flees into hiding but is captured on August 25 and taken to Dublin Castle, then removed to Kilmainham Gaol. He is tried for treason on September 19. The Crown repairs the weaknesses in its case by secretly buying the assistance of Emmet’s defence attorney, Leonard McNally, for £200 and a pension. McNally’s assistant Peter Burrowes cannot be bought and he pleads the case as best he can. Emmet is found guilty of high treason.

Chief Justice John Toler, 1st Earl of Norbury sentences Emmet to be hanged, drawn and quartered, as is customary for conviction of treason. The following day, September 20, Emmet is executed in Thomas Street near St. Catherine’s Church. He is hanged and beheaded once dead. As family members and friends of Emmet had also been arrested, including some who had nothing to do with the rebellion, no one comes forward to claim his remains out of fear of arrest.

Emmet’s remains are first delivered to Newgate Prison and then back to Kilmainham Gaol, where the jailer is under instructions that if no one claims them they are to be buried in a nearby hospital’s burial grounds. A later search there finds no remains. It is speculated that Emmet’s remains were secretly removed from the site and reinterred in St. Michan’s Church, a Dublin church with strong United Irish associations, though it is never confirmed. It is later suspected that they are buried secretly in the vault of a Dublin Anglican church. When the vault is inspected in the 1950s a headless corpse was found, suspected of being Emmet’s, but cannot be identified. Widely accepted is the theory that Emmet’s remains were transferred to St. Peter’s Church in Aungier St. under cover of the burial of his sister, Mary Anne Holmes, in 1804. In the 1980s the church is deconsecrated and all the coffins are removed from the vaults. The church has since been demolished.


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Death of Samuel Nielson, Society of United Irishmen Founder Member

Samuel Neilson, one of the founder members of the Society of United Irishmen and the founder of its newspaper the Northern Star, dies in Poughkeepsie, New York on August 29, 1803.

Neilson is born in Ballyroney, County Down, the son of Presbyterian minister Alexander, and Agnes Neilson. He is educated locally. He is the second son in a family of eight sons and five daughters. At the age of 16, he is apprenticed to his elder brother, John, in the business of woollen drapery in Belfast. Eight years later he establishes his own business.

Despite his commercial success, Neilson is naturally drawn to politics and is early on a member of the reformist Irish Volunteers movement. In 1791, inspired by the French Revolution, he suggests to Henry Joy McCracken the idea of a political society of Irishmen of every religious persuasion. He establishes the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast. The following year he launches the newspaper of the United Irishmen, the Northern Star, which effectively throws away his fortune. As its editor he is a high-profile target for the authorities and is prosecuted for libel several times, being twice imprisoned between 1796 and 1798.

Along with several other state prisoners, Neilson is released in February 1798 following several petitions by influential friends, on grounds of bad health. Upon release he immediately involves himself in the United Irishmen aligning with the radicals among the leadership who are pressing for immediate rebellion and oppose the moderates who wish to wait for French assistance before acting.

The United Irishmen are however, severely penetrated by informants who keep Dublin Castle abreast of their plans and discussions. In March 1798, information of a meeting of the United Irish executive at the house of Oliver Bond leads to the arrest of most of the leadership, leaving Neilson and Lord Edward FitzGerald as the only figures of national importance still at liberty. They decide to press ahead as soon as possible and settled on May 23 as the date for the rebellion to begin.

As the date looms closer, the authorities go into overdrive to sweep up the rump leadership and on May 18 Lord Edward is betrayed in his hiding place and critically wounded while resisting capture. Neilson, now with responsibility for finalising plans for the looming rebellion, decides that Fitzgerald is too valuable to do without, and decides to try and rescue him from Newgate Prison in Dublin. Wary of confiding his plans too early for fear of betrayal, Neilson goes on a reconnaissance of the prison but is spotted by chance by one of his former jailers and after a fierce struggle, he is overpowered and dragged into the prison.

Neilson is indicted for high treason and held in Kilmainham Gaol with other state prisoners for the duration of the doomed rebellion outside. After the execution of Oliver Bond, and the brothers John and Henry Sheares, Neilson and the remaining prisoners agree to provide the authorities with details of the organisation of the United Irishmen, plans for the rebellion, etc. in return for exile.

Following the suppression of the rebellion, Neilson is transferred to Fort George in Inverness-shire, Scotland, and in 1802 he is deported to the Netherlands. From there he makes his way to the United States, arriving in December 1802, and settling in Poughkeepsie, New York.  He has little time to enjoy his liberty  before his  sudden death on August 29, 1803 of yellow fever, or possibly a stroke.

Nielson is not idle during his short life in America as he completes plans to start a new evening newspaper in Poughkeepsie and also has plans in the works to establish a version of the Society of United Irishmen in the United States. Since his death, his remains have been moved to three different cemeteries before coming to rest in the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery in 1880.

(Photograph: (c) National Museums Northern Ireland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation)