seamus dubhghaill

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


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IRA Volunteer Mick Fitzgerald Dies on Hunger Strike

Michael Fitzgerald also known as Mick Fitzgerald, dies on hunger strike in Cork County Gaol on October 17, 1920. He is among the first members of the Irish Republican Army and plays an important role in organizing it. His death is credited with bringing world-wide attention to the Irish cause for independence.

Born in December 1881 in Ballyoran, Fermoy, County Cork, Fitzgerald is educated at the Christian Brothers School in the town and subsequently finds work as a mill worker in the locality. He joins the Irish Volunteers in 1914 and plays an important role in building the local organisation which is soon to become the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He soon rises to the rank of Battalion Commandant, 1st Battalion, Cork No.2 Brigade.

On Easter Sunday, April 20, 1919, Fitzgerald leads a small group of IRA volunteers who capture Araglin, Cork Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks located on the border with County Tipperary. He is subsequently arrested and sentenced to three months imprisonment at Cork County Gaol. He is released from prison in August 1919 and immediately returns to active IRA duty. He is involved in the holding up of a party of British Army troops at the Wesleyan Church in Fermoy. The troops are disarmed although one of them is killed. Arrested and held on remand, Fitzgerald feels that the only chance he has for release is via a hunger strike.

Fitzgerald, along with Terence MacSwiney and nine other IRA volunteers, are arrested on August 8, 1920. On August 11, MacSwiney begins a hunger strike in Brixton Gaol. Fitzgerald and the other nine volunteers at Cork County Gaol join in. At the age of 24, he is the first to die on October 17, 1920 as a result of his sixty-seven day fast. His death is followed by the deaths of Joe Murphy and Terence MacSwiney. Their deaths are credited with bringing world-wide attention to the Irish cause for independence.

Fitzgerald is buried at Kilcrumper Cemetery, on the outskirts of Fermoy, County Cork. In addition, a road is named after him in Togher, Cork.

During a November 2008 visit to Fermoy, Sinn Féin Vice-President Pat Doherty lays a wreath at Fitzgerald’s grave. Doherty says Fitzgerald’s sacrifice was like that of the hunger strikers in 1981. He says it is a great honour for him to pay homage to a man “to whom we owe so much.” Also buried in the Republican Plot in Fermoy is General Liam Lynch, who was Chief of Staff of the IRA when he was shot dead by Irish Free State troops in the Knockmealdown Mountains on April 12, 1923. His last wish was to be buried with his great friend and comrade, Mick Fitzgerald.


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The 1923 Mountjoy Prison Hunger Strike

On October 13, 1923, following the end of the Irish Civil War, Michael Kilroy, O/C of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners in Mountjoy Prison, announces a mass hunger strike by 300 prisoners. It soon spreads to other jails and within days 7,033 republicans are on hunger strike.

On the same day, the prisoners in Kilmainham Gaol go on hunger strike, and Ernie O’Malley writes eloquently of it in his book on the Civil War, The Singing Flame. He notes that “practically all volunteered; some were exempted, including myself, but I refused this concession.”

Previously, the Irish Free State government had passed a motion outlawing the release of prisoners on hunger strike. Dan Downey had died in the Curragh on June 10, and Joseph Witty, only 19 years old, also died in the Curragh on September 2. However, because of the large numbers of Republicans on strike, at the end of October the Government sends a delegation to Newbridge Camp to speak with IRA leaders there.

It soon becomes apparent that they are not there to negotiate the strikers’ demands, but rather to give the prisoners the Government’s message: “we are not going to force-feed you, but if you die we won’t waste coffins on you; you will be put in orange boxes and you will be buried in unconsecrated ground.”

O’Malley writes, “Any action was good, it seemed, and everyone was more cheerful when the hunger strike began. We listened to the tales of men who had undergone previous strikes and we, who were novices, wondered what it would be like. We laughed and talked, but in the privacy of our cells, some, like myself, must have thought what fools we were, and have doubted our tenacity and strength of will. I looked into the future of hunger and I quailed.”

All negotiations to curtail the strike are abandoned and the strike goes forward. Poorly planned, within weeks many are going off strike, but by the end of October, there are still 5,000 on strike. O’Malley does not know what effect the strike will have, but he feels he cannot ‘let the side down.’ “Hunger striking was an unknown quantity for me. I did not approve of it. I was frankly afraid, but I could not see boys of sixteen and eighteen take their chance whilst I could eat and be excused. Now, even though one thought one’s death could be of use, there was no passive acceptance. It was a challenge, a fight, and again resistance was built up……The mind would suffer more than the body. The struggle in the end would be between body and spirit.”

On November 20, Denis “Denny” Barry dies in the Newbridge Camp, and Andrew Sullivan dies in Mountjoy on November 22.

When Barry dies, the Bishop of Cork, Daniel Cohalan, refuses to let his body lie in a Cork church. When Terence MacSwiney died on hunger strike in 1921, Bishop Cohalan had written in The Cork Examiner, “I ask the favour of a little space to welcome home to the city he laboured for so zealously the hallowed remains of Lord Mayor Terence MacSwiney. For the moment, it might appear that he has died in defeat. Was Robert Emmet’s death in vain? Did Pearse and the other martyrs for the cause of Irish freedom die in vain? We bow in respect before his heroic sacrifice. We pray the Lord may have mercy on his soul.”

At the death of Denis Barry two years later, the very same Bishop Cohalan writes, “Republicanism in Ireland for the last twelve months has been a wicked and insidious attack on the Church and on the souls of the faithful committed to the Church by the law of the Catholic Church.” Denis Barry is not afforded a Catholic burial.

With the deaths of Barry and Sullivan drawing no positive response or concessions from the Free State government, the IRA command orders the strikes ended on November 23.

O’Malley writes that the strike ended with no promises of release, “we had been defeated again.” While the strike itself fails to win releases, it does begin a slow start of a programme of release of prisoners, the State being worried about the political impact of more deaths, though some prisoners remain in jail until as late as 1932.

O’Malley, writing of Tom Derrig who is in Mountjoy, relates that one of the strikers there, on the last day of the strike, had asked a doctor, “What day of the strike is this?” The doctor replies, “The forty-first.” The striker says, “Be cripes! We bate Christ by a day!”

(From: Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland, http://www.stairnaheireann.net)


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Birth of Frank Stagg, Provisional IRA Hunger Striker

Frank Stagg, Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) hunger striker, is born in Hollymount, County Mayo on October 4, 1941.

Stagg is the seventh child in a family of thirteen children. His father, Henry, and his uncle had both fought in the Irish War of Independence and Irish Civil War. His brother, Emmet Stagg, becomes a Labour Party politician and a Teachta Dála (TD) for Kildare North. He is educated to primary level at Newbrook Primary School and at CBS Ballinrobe to secondary level. After finishing his schooling, he works as an assistant gamekeeper with his uncle prior to emigrating to England in search of work. Once in England, he gains employment as a bus conductor in North London and later becomes a bus driver. While in England he meets and marries fellow Mayo native, Bridie Armstrong from Carnacon in 1970.

In 1972, Stagg joins the Luton cumann of Sinn Féin and soon after becomes a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

In April 1973, Stagg is arrested with six others alleged to comprise an IRA unit planning bombing attacks in Coventry. He is tried at Birmingham Crown Court. The jury finds three of the seven not guilty. The remaining four are all found guilty of criminal damage and conspiracy to commit arson. Stagg and English-born priest, Father Patrick Fell, are found to be the unit’s commanding officers. Stagg is given a ten-year sentence and Fell is given twelve years. Thomas Gerald Rush is given seven years and Anthony Roland Lynch, who is also found guilty of possessing articles with intent to destroy property, namely nitric acid, balloons, wax and sodium chlorate, is given ten years.

Stagg is initially sent to the top security Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight. In March 1974, having been moved to Parkhurst Prison, he and fellow Mayo man Michael Gaughan join a hunger strike begun by the sisters Marian Price and Dolours Price, Hugh Feeney and Gerry Kelly.

Following the hunger strike that results in the death of Michael Gaughan, the Price sisters, Feeney and Kelly are granted repatriation to Ireland. Stagg is denied repatriation and is transferred to Long Lartin Prison. During his time there he is subject to solitary confinement for refusing to do prison work and is also subjected, along with his wife and sisters during visits, to humiliating body searches. In protest against this, he begins a second hunger strike that lasts for thirty-four days. This ends when the prison governor agrees to an end of the strip-searches on Stagg and his visitors. He is bed-ridden for the rest of his incarceration in Long Lartin, due to a kidney complaint.

In 1975 Stagg is transferred to Wakefield Prison, where it is demanded that he again do prison work. He refuses and is placed in solitary confinement. On December 14, 1975, he embarks on a hunger strike in Wakefield, along with a number of other republican prisoners, after being refused repatriation to Ireland during the IRA/British truce. His demands are an end to solitary confinement, no prison work and repatriation to prison in Ireland. The British government refuses to meet any of these demands and Stagg dies on February 12, 1976 after 62 days on hunger strike.

Stagg’s burial causes considerable controversy. Republicans and two of his brothers seek to have him buried in the republican plot in Ballina beside the grave of Michael Gaughan, in accordance with his wishes. His widow, his brother Emmet Stagg and the Irish government wish to have him buried in the family plot in the same cemetery and to avoid republican involvement in the funeral.

In order to prevent the body from being disinterred and reburied by republicans, the grave is covered with concrete. Local Gardaí keep an armed guard by the grave for six months. However, unknown to them, the plot beside the grave is available for purchase. Stagg’s brother George purchases the plot and places a headstone over it, with it declaring that the “pro-British Irish government” had stolen Frank’s body. In November 1977, a group of republicans dig down into the plot that George had purchased, then dig sideways and recover Stagg’s coffin from the adjacent plot under cover of darkness, before reburying it in the republican plot beside the body of Michael Gaughan. The Republicans hold their own version of a funeral ceremony before disappearing back into the night.

Following the final burial, an anonymous letter is sent to Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, Minister for Justice Patrick Cooney, Minister for Post and Telegraphs Conor Cruise O’Brien and Minister for Foreign Affairs Garret FitzGerald, informing them each that they have been “marked out for assassination” because of their government’s involvement with Stagg’s burials. Stagg’s widow Bridie and his brother Emmett are reported to be intimidated by members of the Provisional IRA due to their opposition to his burial in a Republican plot.

The IRA swears revenge over Stagg’s death, warning the British public it is going to attack indiscriminately. They explode about 13 bombs throughout England within a month after his death.


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Blair & Ahern Meet in Aftermath of the Omagh Bombing

British Prime Minister Tony Blair meets with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in Ashford Castle, County Mayo on August 26, 1998. They join forces to fight terrorism and discuss laws which will be introduced in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing, which took place eleven day earlier on August 15 in Omagh, County Tyrone, 110 kilometres west of Belfast, and resulted in 28 deaths.

Leading the way in a return to the past is Ahern’s Dublin government, which has introduced the toughest anti-terrorist legislation in the history of the Irish Republic. He concedes that the measures are draconian, but says that his government is determined to do everything in its power, “working closely with the British government to defeat and suppress this murderous conspiracy against the people of Ireland.”

Prime Minister Blair promises that he too plans to introduce extreme measures. “We will bring in similar measures to those proposed by the Irish government, so we will then have the toughest anti-terrorist measures for the whole of Ireland, the Republic and Northern Ireland, that we have ever seen.”

With no plans to recall the British parliament, it is thought that existing legislation will be applied, since it already includes measures similar to those announced by the Irish government.

Oppressive British legislation has sustained British rule in Ireland for decades. This includes internment without trial, non-jury courts, entry and search of homes without a warrant, seven-day detention with unrecorded and unsupervised interrogation, denial of access to lawyers, exclusion orders and more. Most of these are still in use in 1998.

The Ahern package includes withdrawal of a suspect’s right to silence — refusal to answer questions can be used as evidence that a suspect is a member of an illegal organisation, the seizure of property that has been used for storing weapons or making bombs, and the creation of a new offence of directing an unlawful organisation. This is expected to carry the penalty of life imprisonment.

Omagh is 75% nationalist, with good cross-community relations, and has largely escaped the worst of the conflict. Although Republican dissidents have carried out a spate of similar bombings in the previous year, the towns targeted are mainly Unionist and further east.

In the wake of the Good Friday Agreement, Republican splinter groups remain on a military footing. These groups — the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA — have announced their determination to fight on.

The group that claims responsibility for the Omagh bombing is the Real IRA, which was formed in protest at the IRA’s 1997 cease-fire. Irish police have insisted that the Real IRA is the military wing of the recently formed 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM), although this is denied by that organisation.

Although both the INLA and the Real IRA have declared a unilateral cease-fire since the Omagh bombing, media focus has settled on Bernadette Sands McKevitt, sister of the 1980s IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, who is a leading figure in the 32 County Sovereignty Movement. Sands-McKevitt has condemned the Omagh bombing, but her home in Blackrock, County Louth, has since been targeted by local townspeople who have staged protests against her and her family. She has also been denied a visa to enter the United States on a speaking tour.

The Omagh bombing could not have come at a better time for Britain. With the war formally over and Sinn Féin penned, the bombing delivers an opportunity to smash the Republican left once and for all and wrench it from any semblance of ongoing support in Ireland.

All nationalist opponents of the Good Friday Agreement must now cope with being stained by the blood of Omagh. With the massive referendum vote in favour of peace to back them up, the British and Irish governments can be satisfied that the Good Friday Agreement now looks more in place than at any other time. As one nationalist describes the situation, “If the Good Friday Agreement was a defeat for the cause of Irish nationalism, the Omagh bombing has turned it into a rout.”

(From: “Blair, Ahern make the most of Omagh bomb” by Dave Riley, Green Left (www.greenleft.org), August 26, 1998)


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Death of Kieran Doherty, Irish Republican Hunger Striker

Kieran Doherty, Irish republican hunger striker and politician who serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Cavan–Monaghan constituency from June 1981 to August 1981, dies on August 2, 1981 in HM Prison Maze (known to republicans as Long Kesh) on the 73rd day of his hunger strike. He is a volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Doherty is the third son in a family of six. He is born on October 16, 1955 in the Andersonstown area of Belfast and is educated at St. Theresa’s Primary School and Glen Road Christian Brothers School (CBS). The Doherty brothers are known cyclists and sportsmen in the Andersontown area. He wins an Antrim Gaelic football medal at minor level in 1971.

Doherty joins Fianna Éireann in 1971 and is interned by the British Government between February 1973 and November 1975. His brothers Michael and Terence are interned between 1972 and 1974.

Doherty works as an apprentice heating engineer. His girlfriend is Geraldine Scheiss and, although they never become formally engaged, they become very close toward the end of his life. Before his arrest, she had not known that he is in the IRA.

In August 1976, while he is out to set a bomb, the van in which he is riding is chased by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). During the chase Doherty manages to leave the van and hijack a car. He later ditches the car and is found one mile away from the car. He is convicted and sentenced to 18 years for possession of firearms and explosives, with another four years for the hijack.

Doherty starts his hunger strike on May 22, 1981. While on hunger strike he is elected as an Anti H-Block TD for the Cavan–Monaghan constituency at the 1981 Irish general election, which is held on June 11. He receives 9,121 (15.1%) first preference votes and is elected on the fourth count. The two seats gained by Anti H-Block candidates denies Taoiseach Charles Haughey the chance to form a government, and the 22nd Dáil Éireann sees a Fine GaelLabour Party coalition government come to office, with Garret FitzGerald as Taoiseach.

Doherty dies at the age of 25 on August 2, 1981. He lasts 73 days on hunger strike, the longest of the 1981 hunger strikers, and only one day short of Terence MacSwiney. He is the shortest-serving Dáil deputy ever, serving as a TD for only two months.

Doherty is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia. In October 2016, a painting of him is unveiled in Leinster House by Sinn Féin.


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Death of Irish American Actor Gregory Peck

Actor Gregory Peck dies at his home in Los Angeles, California, from bronchopneumonia at the age of 87 on June 12, 2003.

Peck is born in La Jolla, California on April 5, 1916 to Bernice Mary (Ayres) and Gregory Pearl Peck, a chemist and pharmacist in San Diego. Through his Irish-born paternal grandmother, Catherine Ashe, Peck is related to Thomas Ashe, who takes part in the Easter Rising fewer than three weeks after Peck’s birth and dies while on hunger strike in 1917.

Peck’s parents divorce when he is five years old. An only child, he is sent to live with his grandmother. He never feels as though he has a stable childhood. His fondest memories are of his grandmother taking him to the movies every week and of his dog, which follows him everywhere.

At the age of ten Peck is sent to a Catholic military school, St. John’s Military Academy in Los Angeles. While he is a student there, his grandmother dies. At 14, he moves back to San Diego to live with his father and attends San Diego High School. After graduating he enrolls for one year at San Diego State Teacher’s College (now known as San Diego State University).

Peck studies pre-med at the University of California, Berkeley and while there is bitten by the acting bug and decides to change the focus of his studies. He enrolls in the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City and debuts on Broadway after graduation. His debut is in Emlyn Williams‘ play The Morning Star (1942). By 1943, he is in Hollywood, where he debuts in the RKO Pictures film Days of Glory (1944).

Stardom comes with Peck’s next film, The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), for which he is nominated for an Academy Award. Peck’s screen presence displays the qualities for which he becomes well known. He is tall, rugged and heroic, with a basic decency that transcends his roles. He appears in Alfred Hitchcock‘s Spellbound (1945) as an amnesia victim accused of murder. In The Yearling (1946), he is again nominated for an Academy Award and wins the Golden Globe Award. He is especially effective in westerns and appears in such varied fare as David O. Selznick‘s critically blasted Duel in the Sun (1946), the somewhat better received Yellow Sky (1948) and the acclaimed The Gunfighter (1950). He is nominated again for the Academy Award for his roles in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), which deals with antisemitism, and Twelve O’Clock High (1949), a story of high-level stress in an Air Force bomber unit in World War II.

With a string of hits to his credit, Peck makes the decision to only work in films that interest him. He continues to appear as the heroic, larger-than-life figures in such films as Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951) and Moby Dick (1956). He works with Audrey Hepburn in her debut film, Roman Holiday (1953).

Peck finally wins the Oscar, after four nominations, for his performance as lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). In the early 1960s, he appears in two darker films than he usually makes, Cape Fear (1962) and Captain Newman, M.D. (1963), which deal with the way people live. He also gives a powerful performance as Captain Keith Mallory in The Guns of Navarone (1961), one of the biggest box-office hits of that year.

In the early 1970s, Peck produces two films, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine (1972) and The Dove (1974), when his film career stalled. He makes a comeback playing, somewhat woodenly, Robert Thorn in the horror film The Omen (1976). After that, he returns to the bigger-than-life roles he is best known for, such as MacArthur (1977) and the monstrous Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele in the huge hit The Boys from Brazil (1978). In the 1980s, he moves into television with the miniseries The Blue and the Gray (1982) and The Scarlet and the Black (1983). In 1991, he appears in the remake of his 1962 film, playing a different role, in Martin Scorsese‘s Cape Fear (1991). He is also cast as the progressive-thinking owner of a wire and cable business in Other People’s Money (1991).

In 1967, Peck receives the Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He has also been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Always politically progressive, he is active in such causes as anti-war protests, workers’ rights and civil rights. In 2003, Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch is named the greatest film hero of the past 100 years by the American Film Institute.

Peck dies in his sleep at his home in Los Angeles, California from bronchopneumonia at the age of 87 on June 12, 2003. He is entombed in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels mausoleum in Los Angeles. His eulogy is read by Brock Peters, whose character, Tom Robinson, was defended by Peck’s Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.


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Republican Prisoner Denny Barry Dies on Hunger Strike

Irish Republican prisoner Denis “Denny” Barry dies on hunger strike in Newbridge internment camp on November 20, 1923, shortly after the Irish Civil War.

Barry is born into a farming family in Riverstick, ten miles south of Cork city, on July 15, 1883. He enjoys Gaelic culture and sport and is a prominent member of the Ballymartle hurling club. He later joins the famous Blackrock National Hurling Club where he wins four senior county championships in a row during the years of 1910 to 1913.

In 1913, Barry joins the newly formed Irish Volunteers. He is a member of the first Cork brigade and has been politically active in Sinn Féin. In 1915, he moves to Kilkenny to take up employment there, where he continues his volunteer activities. Shortly after the Easter Rising in 1916, he is arrested in Kilkenny in a British Government crackdown, and sent to Frongoch internment camp in North Wales. In 1917 he becomes election agent for W. T. Cosgrave in the Kilkenny by-election, one in which Cosgrave is successfully elected. However, just six years later he finds himself imprisoned by Cosgrave’s own government.

In 1922 Barry is imprisoned in Newbridge camp in Kildare and takes part in the hunger strike of 1923. On November 20, 1923, after 34 days protesting against the harsh regime and undignified conditions, he dies but even in death he is still refused dignity.

Barry’s body is not released to his family and is instead, on the orders of Minister of Defence, Richard Mulcahy, buried in the grounds of Newbridge internment camp. The Barry family takes legal action against this and eventually receives the body, but this is not the last of their troubles.

Upon their arrival in Cork with Barry’s body, the Bishop of Cork, Daniel Cohalan, instructs his priests not to allow Barry’s funeral in any church. Ironically just a few short years before, Bishop Cohalan had been a strong vocal supporter of Terence MacSwiney, Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork, who died on hunger strike in Brixton Prison.

Shortly after MacSwiney’s death, Bishop Cohalan’s attitude towards the Irish Republican Army (IRA) changes and he issues a decree condemning the IRA in which he states, “Anyone who shall within the diocese of Cork organise or take part in an ambush or in kidnapping or otherwise, shall be guilty of murder or attempted murder and shall incur by the very fact the censure of excommunication.”

On December 10, 1922, Bishop Cohalan preaches publicly his support for the Anglo-Irish Treaty which establishes the Irish Free State and he urges his flock to do the same. This leads to an even greater wedge between the Catholic Church and many IRA members, yet it is the incident with Barry that seriously taints the Bishop of Cork and the Catholic Church in republican eyes.

Because of Bishop Cohalan’s stern objection to Barry’s body being permitted into a Catholic church, his body has to lay in state in the Cork Sinn Féin headquarters on the Grand Parade in Cork city. He is then taken in a funeral procession to St. Finbarr’s Cemetery where he is buried in the Republican plot next to Terence MacSwiney, whose funeral Bishop Cohalan had presided over three years previously. In place of a priest is David Kent, Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for Cork and brother of Thomas Kent, who was executed for his part in the 1916 Rising. Kent gives an oration, recites the Rosary and sprinkles holy water on the grave.

On November 28, 1923, the day Barry is buried, Bishop Cohalan sends an open letter to The Cork Examiner publicly denying a Christian burial for Barry and urging all men of the cloth to stay away from any such attempts for such a funeral. He goes so far as to write to the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Dr. Patrick Foley, to enquire about Barry getting the last sacraments. Barry did indeed receive the last rites from a Fr. Doyle who was serving as prison chaplain and this does not impress the Bishop of Cork.

Barry’s funeral precession through Cork City draws massive crowds with people from all walks of Cork’s political, social and sporting life attending to pay their respects to this man who had been at the heart of the revolution in Cork during the last decade of his life. The IRA, Cumann na mBan and Na Fíanna Éireann march in military formations with the funeral party.

Two days after Barry’s death another IRA prisoner, Andrew O’Sullivan, from Cork dies and the strike is called off the following day. Women prisoners are then released while men remain in prison until the following year.

A memorial to Barry is unveiled in Riverstick in 1966.


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Death of Terence MacSwiney, Playwright & Politician

Terence James MacSwiney, Irish playwright, author, politician and Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish War of Independence, dies in London‘s Brixton Prison on October 25, 1920 after 73 days on hunger strike. His death brings him and the Irish Republican campaign to international attention.

MacSwiney is born at 23 North Main Street, Cork, County Cork, one of eight children of John and Mary MacSwiney. Following the failure of this business, John MacSwiney emigrates to Australia in 1885 leaving the children in the care of their mother and his eldest daughter.

MacSwiney is educated by the Christian Brothers at the North Monastery school in Cork, but leaves at fifteen to help support the family. He becomes an accountancy clerk but continues his studies and matriculates successfully. He continues in full-time employment while he studies at the Royal University (now University College Cork), graduating with a degree in Mental and Moral Science in 1907.

In 1901 MacSwiney helps to found the Celtic Literary Society, and in 1908 he founds the Cork Dramatic Society with Daniel Corkery and writes a number of plays for them. His first play, The Last Warriors of Coole, is produced in 1910. His fifth play, The Revolutionist (1915), takes the political stand made by a single man as its theme.

Described as a sensitive poet-intellectual, MacSwiney’s writings in the newspaper Irish Freedom bring him to the attention of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He is one of the founders of the Cork Brigade of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and is President of the Cork branch of Sinn Féin. He founds a newspaper, Fianna Fáil, in 1914, but it is suppressed after only 11 issues. In April 1916, he is intended to be second in command of the Easter Rising in Cork and Kerry, but stands down his forces on the order of Eoin MacNeill.

Following the rising, MacSwiney is imprisoned by the British Government under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 in Reading and Wakefield Gaols until December 1916. In February 1917 he is deported from Ireland and imprisoned in Shrewsbury and Bromyard internment camps until his release in June 1917. It is during his exile in Bromyard that he marries Muriel Murphy of the Cork distillery-owning family. In November 1917, he is arrested in Cork for wearing an Irish Republican Army (IRA) uniform, and, inspired by the example of Thomas Ashe, goes on a hunger strike for three days prior to his release.

In the 1918 Irish general election, MacSwiney is returned unopposed to the first Dáil Éireann as Sinn Féin representative for Mid Cork, succeeding the Nationalist MP D. D. Sheehan. After the murder of his friend Tomás Mac Curtain, the Lord Mayor of Cork on March 20, 1920, he is elected as Lord Mayor. On August 12, 1920, he is arrested in Cork for possession of “seditous articles and documents,” and also possession of a cipher key. He is summarily tried by a court on August 16 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment at Brixton Prison in England.

In prison MacSwiney immediately starts a hunger strike in protest of his internment and the fact that he was tried by a military court. Eleven other Irish Republican prisoners in Cork Jail go on hunger strike at the same time. On August 26, the British Government states that “the release of the Lord Mayor would have disastrous results in Ireland and would probably lead to a mutiny of both military and police in south of Ireland.”

MacSwiney’s hunger strike gains world attention. The British Government is threatened with a boycott of British goods by Americans, while four countries in South America appeal to Pope Benedict XV to intervene. Protests are held in Germany and France as well. An Australian member of Parliament, Hugh Mahon, is expelled from the Parliament of Australia for “seditious and disloyal utterances at a public meeting,” after protesting against the actions of the British Government. Two weeks later, the Spanish Catalan organization Autonomous Center of Employees of Commerce and Industry (CADCI) sends a petition to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George calling for his release and the newspaper of the organization, Acció (Acción in Spanish), begins a campaign for MacSwiney.

Food is often placed near MacSwiney to persuade him to give up the hunger strike. Attempts at force-feeding are undertaken in the final days of his strike. On October 20, 1920 he slips into a coma and dies five days later after 73 days on hunger strike. His body lay in St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark in London where 30,000 people file past it. Fearing large-scale demonstrations in Dublin, the authorities divert his coffin directly to Cork, and his funeral in the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne on October 31 attracts huge crowds. He is buried in the Republican plot in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork. Arthur Griffith delivers the graveside oration.


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Death of IRA Leader Seán Treacy

Seán Allis Treacy, one of the leaders of the Third Tipperary Brigade of the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence, is killed on October 14, 1920 in a gun battle in Talbot Street, Dublin.

Treacy is born on February 14, 1895, in Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary. He leaves school at the age of 14 and works as farmer while also developing deep patriotic convictions. He is a member of the Gaelic League, and of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) from 1911 and the Irish Volunteers from 1913.

Treacy is picked up in the mass arrests following the Easter Rising in 1916. He spends much of the following two years in prison, where he goes on hunger strike on several occasions. In 1918, he is appointed Vice Officer-Commanding of the Third Tipperary Brigade of the Irish Volunteers, which becomes the Irish Republican Army in 1919.

On January 21, 1919, Treacy and Dan Breen, together with Seán Hogan, Séamus Robinson, and five other volunteers, help to ignite the conflict that is to become the Irish War of Independence. They ambush and shoot dead Constables Patrick MacDonnell and James O’Connell of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), who are guarding a transport of gelignite explosives, during the Soloheadbeg Ambush near Treacy’s home. Treacy leads the planning of the ambush and briefs the brigade’s OC Robinson on his return from prison in late 1918. Robinson supports the plans and agrees they will not go to GHQ for permission to undertake the attack.

As a result of the Soloheadbeg Ambush, South Tipperary is placed under martial law and declared a Special Military Area under the Defence of the Realm Act. After Soloheadbeg ambush party member Seán Hogan is arrested on May 12, 1919, Treacy, Breen, and Séamus Robinson are joined by five men from the IRA’s East Limerick Brigade to organise Hogan’s rescue. Hogan is brought to the train which is intended to take him from Thurles to Cork on May 13, 1919. As the train steams across the Tipperary border and into County Limerick, the IRA party boards the train in Knocklong. A close-range struggle ensues on the train. Treacy and Breen are seriously wounded in the gunfight and two RIC men die, but Hogan is rescued. His rescuers rush him into the village of Knocklong where a butcher cuts off his handcuffs using a cleaver.

A search for Treacy and the others is mounted across Ireland. Treacy leaves Tipperary for Dublin to avoid capture. In Dublin, Michael Collins employs Treacy on assassination operations with “the Squad“. In the summer of 1920, he returns to Tipperary and organises several attacks on RIC barracks before again moving his base of operations to Dublin.

By spring 1920 the political police of both the Crimes Special Branch of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and G-Division (Special Branch) of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) have been effectively neutalised by IRA counterintelligence operatives working for Michael Collins. The British thoroughly reorganise their administration at Dublin Castle and begin to import dozens of professional secret service agents from all parts of the British Empire into Ireland to track down IRA operatives and Sinn Féin leaders.

On October 11, 1920, Treacy and Breen are holed up in a safe house on the north side of Dublin when it is raided by a police unit. In the ensuing shootout, two senior British officers are wounded and die the next day while Treacy and Breen are wounded, Breen seriously. Treacy and Breen manage to escape through a window and shoot their way through the police cordon.

Treacy is discovered at the Republican Outfitters shop at 94 Talbot Street on October 14 a British Secret Intelligence Service surveillance team led by Major Carew and Lt. Gilbert Price. They are stalking him in hopes that he will lead them to Collins or to other high-value IRA targets. Treacy realises that he is being followed and runs for his bicycle but grabs the wrong bike, taking one that is far too big for him, and falls. Price draws his pistol and closes in on Treacy. Treacy draws his parabellum automatic pistol and shoots Price and another British agent before he is hit in the head, dying instantly.

Treacy is buried at Kilfeacle graveyard where, despite a large presence of British military personnel, a volley of shots are fired over the grave.


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Birth of Neil Blaney, Fianna Fáil Politician

Neil Terence Columba Blaney, Irish politician first elected to Dáil Éireann in 1948 as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) representing Donegal East, is born on October 1, 1922 in Fanad, County Donegal. He serves as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (1957), Minister for Local Government (1957–1966) and Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries (1966–1970). He is Father of the Dáil from 1987 until his death.

Blaney is the second eldest of a family of eleven. His father, from whom he got his strong republican views and his first introduction to politics, had been a commander in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Donegal during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. He is educated locally at Tamney on the rugged Fanad Peninsula and later attends St. Eunan’s College in Letterkenny. He later works as an organiser with the Irish National Vintners and Grocers Association.

Blaney is first elected to Dáil Éireann for the Donegal East constituency in a by-election in December 1948, following the death of his father from cancer. He also becomes a member of the Donegal County Council. He remains on the backbenches for a number of years before he is one of a group of young party members handpicked by Seán Lemass to begin a re-organisation drive for the party following the defeat at the 1954 general election. Within the party he gains fame by running the party’s by-election campaigns throughout the 1950s and 1960s. His dedicated bands of supporters earn the sobriquet “the Donegal Mafia,” and succeed in getting Desmond O’Malley and Gerry Collins elected to the Dáil.

Following Fianna Fáil’s victory at the 1957 general election, Éamon de Valera, as Taoiseach, brings new blood into the Cabinet in the shape of Blaney, Jack Lynch, Kevin Boland and Mícheál Ó Móráin. Blaney is appointed Minister for Posts and Telegraphs however he moves to the position of Minister for Local Government at the end of 1957 following the death of Seán Moylan. He retains the post when Lemass succeeds de Valera as Taoiseach in 1959. During his tenure it becomes possible to pay rates by installment and he also introduces legislation which entitles non-nationals to vote in local elections.

In 1966 Lemass resigns as Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader. The subsequent leadership election sees Cork politician Jack Lynch become party leader and Taoiseach. In the subsequent cabinet reshuffle Blaney is appointed Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries.

In 1969, when conflict breaks out in Northern Ireland, Blaney is one of the first to express strong Irish republican views, views which contradict the policy of the Irish Government, in support of Northern nationalists. From around late 1968 onwards, he forms and presides over an unofficial Nationalist group in Leinster House popularly known as “the Letterkenny Table.” The group is dominated by Blaney up until his death.

There is general surprise when, in an incident known as the Arms Crisis, Blaney, along with Charles Haughey, is sacked from Lynch’s cabinet amid allegations of the use of the funds to import arms for use by the IRA. Lynch asked for their resignations but both men refuse, saying they did nothing illegal. Lynch then advises President de Valera to sack Haughey and Blaney from the government. Haughey and Blaney are subsequently tried in court but are acquitted. However, many of their critics refuse to recognise the verdict of the courts. Although Blaney is cleared of wrongdoing, his ministerial career is brought to an end.

Lynch subsequently moves against Blaney so as to isolate him in the party. When Blaney and his supporters try to organise the party’s national collection independently, Lynch acts and in 1972 Blaney is expelled from Fianna Fáil for “conduct unbecoming.”

Following his expulsion from Fianna Fáil, Kevin Boland tries to persuade Blaney to join the Aontacht Éireann party he is creating but Blaney declines. Instead, he contests all subsequent elections for Independent Fianna Fáil – The Republican Party, an organisation that he built up. Throughout the 1970s there are frequent calls for his re-admittance to Fianna Fáil but the most vocal opponents of this move are Fianna Fáil delegates from County Donegal.

At the 1979 European Parliament elections Blaney tops the poll in the Connacht–Ulster constituency to the annoyance of Fianna Fáil. He narrowly loses the seat at the 1984 election but is returned to serve as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) in the 1989 election where he sits with the regionalist Rainbow Group. He also canvasses for IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election, in which Sands is elected to Westminster.

Blaney holds his Dáil seat until his death from cancer at the age of 73 on November 8, 1995 in Dublin.