seamus dubhghaill

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


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Execution of Major Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith

geoffrey-lee-compton-smithMajor Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith (DSO) of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers is captured and executed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 30, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

Compton-Smith was born in 1889 in South Kensington, London. After finishing school, he decides not to follow the family tradition of studying law. He actually wants to become an artist, but his father insists that he join the army. He studies at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and during World War I his regiment is sent to France. In 1917 he is wounded at the Battle of Arras, but he continues to fight on. He is awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). In 1919 he is sent to serve in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence.

In 1919 Compton-Smith is commander of the British Army base at Ballyvonane, near Buttevant, but he is also an intelligence officer. As an officer he also sometimes presides over courts martial. In January 1921, for instance, three IRA volunteers are tried by him for involvement in the ambush at Shinanagh, near Charleville, and he sentences them each to six months.

February 1921 is a bad time for the IRA in County Cork. They suffer major losses at the ambushes at Clonmult and Mourne Abbey, and several volunteers are taken prisoner, four of whom are sentenced to death. The IRA believes that these death sentences might be commuted if a British officer is held as a hostage. This leads to the capture of Compton-Smith. On April 16, 1921 he travels to Blarney, supposedly on a sketching trip but actually to meet a nurse in Victoria Barracks with whom he is having an affair. The IRA has spies in Victoria Barracks who likely tip off the IRA that Compton-Smith is coming to Blarney. A squad led by Frank Busteed easily capture him after he gets off the train.

Busteed then meets with Jackie O’Leary, the IRA battalion commander. It is decided that Donoughmore is the perfect place to keep a hostage, because parts of the parish are remote and the IRA is strong there.

On April 18, under the cover of darkness, Compton-Smith is transferred by car to Knockane House, an abandoned big house in Donoughmore. The following night he is moved again, this time by pony and trap, to Barrahaurin, a remote townland in the Boggeragh Mountains. He is kept there for the last eleven days of his life, on the small farm of Jack and Mary Moynihan. He is held prisoner in a shed, always under guard. Every evening he is brought into the house, where he eats and stays at the fireside. He and his guards have conversations about history and politics.

The four IRA prisoners are executed on April 28, 1921. On April 30, O’Leary informs Compton-Smith that he is going to be executed. He then writes a final letter to his wife. He tells her that he will die with her name on his lips and her face before his eyes and that he will “die like an Englishman and a soldier.” He also writes a letter to his regiment and one to Lt. General Strickland.

After finishing his letters, Compton-Smith is led up into Barrahaurin bog behind the Moynihan house, to a place where his grave had already been dug, and is given a final cigarette. In his witness statement Maurice Brew writes, “When removed to the place of execution he placed his cigarette case in his breast pocket of his tunic … He then lighted a cigarette and said that when he dropped the cigarette it could be taken as a signal by the execution squad to open fire.”

It is not until late May, following the discovery of the cache of letters in a Dublin raid, that the Compton-Smith family is informed of his death. His father, William, then starts a campaign to find his son’s body. He wrote letters to MPs and to the British Army, seeking information and help. He also writes to Erskine Childers but gets no reply. He offers a reward of £500 for information, but only The Irish Times agrees to print his advertisement.

In November 1921 a cousin of Compton-Smith’s wife, Gladys, meets Michael Collins in London and asks him for help in finding the body. Correspondence between Collins and the Compton-Smith family suggests that Collins is trying to help in 1922, but he fails to get any results before he is assassinated at Béal na Bláth later that same year.

On March 3, 1926 Compton-Smith’s grave is discovered by the Gardaí. The newspapers report that the remains, because of the conditions of the bog, “were not so badly decomposed as to render identification impossible.” The body is brought to Collins Barracks in Cork. On March 5 the Gardaí send a telegram to the Compton-Smiths, informing them that the body has been located.

The reburial of Compton-Smith is carried out with great dignity on March 19, 1926. The Irish Army escorts the coffin from Collins Barracks to Penrose Quay, where British forces from Spike Island take the coffin on board a boat. While the boat travels down the River Lee, the Irish Army’s guard of honour presents arms and sounds the “Last Post.” The British then bring the coffin to Carlisle Fort, near Whitegate, where it was buried in the in the British Military Cemetery with full military honours.


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Formation of the Provisional Government of Ireland

provisional-government-of irelandA meeting of the members elected to the House of Commons of Southern Ireland is held at the Mansion House in Dublin on January 14, 1922. At the meeting the Anglo-Irish Treaty is ratified by the Irish side in accordance with the Treaty and a Provisional Government is elected for the purposes of Article 17 of the Treaty.

Under the Irish Republic‘s Dáil Constitution adopted in 1919, Dáil Éireann continues to exist after it has ratified the Anglo-Irish Treaty. In protest at the ratification, Éamon de Valera resigns the presidency of the Dáil then seeks re-election from among its members in order to clarify his mandate, but Arthur Griffith defeats him in the vote and assumes the presidency.

Most of the Dáil Ministers become concurrently Ministers of this Provisional Government. Michael Collins becomes Chairman of the Provisional Government (i.e. prime minister). He also remains Minister for Finance of Griffith’s republican administration.

The Provisional Government takes office two days later on January 16, 1922 when British administration hands over Dublin Castle to Collins in person. At this time, Westminster has not formally appointed the new Irish ministers or conferred their government with any powers.

The handover of Dublin Castle to the Provisional Government is one of the earliest and most remarkable events in the short life of the Provisional Government. For centuries Dublin Castle is the symbol, as well as the citadel, of British rule in Ireland. The transfer of its Castle administration to the representatives of the Irish people is greatly welcomed in Dublin. It is regarded as a significant outward and visible sign that British rule is ending.

Following the general election on June 16, 1922, held just before the outbreak of the Irish Civil War, the Second Provisional Government takes power until the creation of the Irish Free State on December 6, 1922.

By mid-1922, Collins in effect lays down his responsibilities as Chairman of the Provisional Government to become Commander-in-Chief of the Irish Army, a formal structured uniformed army that forms around the pro-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA). As part of those duties, he travels to his native County Cork. En route home on August 22, 1922, at Béal na Bláth, he is killed in an ambush. Arthur Griffith dies of a cerebral haemorrhage ten days prior to Collins’ assassination. After Collins’ and Griffith’s deaths in August 1922, W. T. Cosgrave becomes both Chairman of the Provisional Government and President of Dáil Éireann, and the distinction between the two posts becomes irrelevant.

On December 6, 1922, the Irish Free State comes into being, and the Provisional Government becomes the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, presided over by a prime minister called the President of the Executive Council. On December 7 the House of Commons of Northern Ireland unanimously exercises its right under the Treaty to opt out of the Free State.

(Pictured: The Provisional Government of Ireland with President Arthur Griffith (front row center) and his cabinet and party includng Michael Collins (to Griffith’s right) likely taken at the Mansion House in February 1922)


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Birth of Maureen Potter, Actor & Comedienne

maureen-potter

Maria Philomena Potter, singer, actor, comedian and performer known as Maureen Potter, is born on January 3, 1925 in Fairview, Dublin.

Potter is educated at St. Mary’s school in Fairview. She has a long career in Irish theatre, mainly as Ireland’s première comedienne, but also as a straight actress. She first appears professionally with Jimmy O’Dea in pantomime and appears frequently on television and in cabaret. She is a regular performer at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin and for many years stars in Christmas pantomime. She becomes the first star to have a bronze cast of her handprints outside the theatre. She marries Jack O’Leary in 1959, an Irish army officer whom she had first met in 1943, and he writes most of her comedic material.

Among Potter’s many dramatic roles in the theatre is that of Maisie Madigan in Juno and the Paycock. While still a teenager, she tours abroad before World War II as a singer and dancer with Jack Hylton and his orchestra. On a tour of Germany, they once perform in front of Adolf Hitler and other Nazis. She plays the role of Dante Riordan in Joseph Strick‘s film, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1977). In September 1938, she appears on the BBC Television Service with Jack Hylton and his band. Film of her performance is held by the Alexandra Palace Television Society. In 2001, the Archivist of the Alexandra Palace Television Society gives Potter a copy of her 1938 television appearance.

Potter is conferred with the Freedom of the City of Dublin in 1984, and is later awarded an honorary degree from Trinity College, Dublin. She dies in her sleep at her home in Clontarf on April 7, 2004, at the age of 79. She is survived by her husband Jack O’Leary, and her sons John and Hugh.


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The Glasdrumman Ambush

glasdrumman-ambush-ni-mapThe Glasdrumman ambush, an attack by the South Armagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) against a British Army observation post, takes place on July 17, 1981 at a scrapyard in Glasdrumman, County Armagh, southwest of Crossmaglen.

The crisis, triggered by the 1981 Irish hunger strike of Provisional IRA and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners, leads to an increase in militant Irish republican activity in Northern Ireland. British intelligence reports unveil IRA intentions of mounting illegal checkpoints and hijacking vehicles on the IRA-controlled roads in South County Armagh, near the Irish border. To counter it, the British Army deploy the so-called COPs (close observation platoons), small infantry sections acting as undercover units, a tactic introduced by Major General Richard Trant in 1977.

On May 6, 1981, a day after the death of hunger-striker Bobby Sands, one IRA member from a three-man unit is arrested while trying to set up a roadblock east of the main Belfast-Dublin road by twelve members of the Royal Green Jackets, divided in three teams. A second volunteer crosses the border, only to be arrested by the Irish Army. The third IRA man escapes, apparently injured. A total of 689 rounds are fired by the soldiers.

After this initial success, the British Army continues these tactics. On July 16, another operation is carried out by eighteen Royal Green Jackets soldiers. That night, four concealed positions – Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta – are inserted into the Glassdrumman area, around a scrapyard along the border. The plan is that another unit, called the triggering team, would ambush any IRA unit on sight, while the other four would block the expected escape routes. On July 17, the commanders in charge of Alpha and Delta teams, suspecting that the operation has been compromised by the presence of local civilians, orders the withdrawal of their men. Shortly thereafter, Bravo team is suddenly engaged by automatic fire from an M60 machine gun and AR-15 rifles fired by six or seven IRA members. The concealed position, emplaced inside a derelict van, is riddled by more than 250 bullets. The team’s leader, Lance Corporal Gavin Dean, is killed instantly and one of his men, Rifleman John Moore, is seriously wounded. Moore is later awarded the Military Medal. The IRA members fire their weapons from across the border, 160 yards away.

British army commanders conclude that “it was not worth risking the lives of soldiers to prevent an IRA roadblock being set up.” The incident also exposes the difficulties of concealing operations from local civilians in South Armagh, whose sympathy with the IRA is manifest. Several years later, the IRA would repeat its success against undercover observation posts in the course of Operation Conservation in 1990.


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Death of James Kelly, Irish Army Intelligence Officer

james-kellyJames Kelly, former Irish Army intelligence officer who is found not guilty, along with two former Irish government ministers, of attempting to illegally import arms for the Provisional Irish Republican Army in the Arms Crisis of 1970, dies on July 16, 2003.

Kelly is the eldest of ten children, born on October 16, 1929 into a staunchly Irish republican family from Bailieborough, County Cavan.

Kelly is a central figure in the Arms Crisis, having traveled to Hamburg to arrange the purchase of arms. It emerges later that Neil Blaney had ordered him to do so outside normal legal channels, but before the weapons arrive the Gards Special Detective Unit hears of the plan and informs the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, aborting the importation and resulting in criminal charges for the plotters. Although in his summation the judge says it is no defence for Kelly to say that he believes that the government authorised the importation of arms, Kelly is acquitted.

Despite his acquittal, Kelly suffers financially because he had felt compelled to resign from the Army even before the prosecution was brought. He prints and publishes a personal memoir in paperback format called Orders for the Captain? in 1971.

Kelly never denies his involvement in extra-legal arms purchase talks, but contends that he had been ordered to do so by some ministers. A typical version of the events is found in a 1993 hostile biography of Charles Haughey, claiming: “As early as October 1969, to the certain knowledge of Charles Haughey, James Gibbons, the Department of Justice, the Special Branch and Army Intelligence, there were meetings with leading members of the IRA, when they were promised money and arms. The critical encounter took place in Bailieborough, County Cavan, on Saturday, 4 October 1969. It had been arranged by Captain James Kelly, an army intelligence officer, and Cathal Goulding. Kelly, at that stage, was already the subject of several security reports to the Secretary of the Department of Justice, Peter Berry, from the Special Branch, implicating Kelly with subversives and with promises of money and of arms.” Kelly never objected to such versions of the events of 1969.

Kelly is elected vice-chairman of Aontacht Éireann. Aontacht Éireann meets with little success at the polls and by 1980 he has joined Fianna Fáil, becoming a member of its national executive. Following the first applications of the 1987 Extradition (European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism) Act, he resigns from the party in 1989 in opposition to the extradition of Provisional IRA prisoners to the United Kingdom. He also serves twice as President of the 1916-1921 Club. He launches a successful defamation case against Garret FitzGerald over an article in The Irish Times.

James Kelly dies on July 16, 2003 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. The epitaph on his grave is “Put not your trust in princes,” a quote from Psalm 146.


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Assassination of Activist Miriam Daly

miriam-dalyMiriam Daly, Irish republican activist and university lecturer, is assassinated by the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) on June 26, 1980.

Daly is born in the Curragh Irish Army camp, County Kildare in 1928. She grows up in Hatch Street, Dublin and attends Loreto College on St. Stephen’s Green and University College, Dublin, graduating in history. She goes on to teach economic history in UCD for some years before moving to Southampton University with her husband, Joseph Lee. Two years after her first husband dies, she marries James Daly and returns to Ireland with him in 1968. They both are appointed lecturers in Queen’s University Belfast.

Daly soon becomes an activist in the civil rights movement, particularly following the introduction of internment without trial by the Government of Northern Ireland. She is active in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and the Northern Resistance Movement.

Daly is a militant member of the Prisoners’ Relatives Action Committee and the national Hunger Strike Committee. In that campaign, she works with Seamus Costello and soon joins him in the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). After Costello is assassinated, she becomes chairperson, leading the party for two years. During this time she and her husband are instrumental in opposing Sinn Féin‘s drift towards federalism.

On June 26, 1980, Daly is shot dead at her home in the Andersonstown area of west Belfast. At the time of her assassination, she is in charge of the IRSP prisoners’ welfare.

According to reports in The Irish Times, members of the Ulster Defence Association gain entry to her home with the intention of killing her husband, who is also a republican activist. Daly is captured and tied up while they wait for him to return home. However, he is in Dublin at the time and so does not arrive. After a considerable time, the UDA men decide to kill Daly instead. Muffling the sound of the gun with a cushion, they shoot her in the head and cut the phone lines before fleeing. Her body is discovered when her ten-year-old daughter arrives home from school.

Daly is buried in Swords, County Dublin. Mourners at her funeral, which features the firing of a volley of shots over her coffin, includes Seán Mac Stíofáin and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. She is included as a volunteer on the INLA monument in Milltown Cemetery and is one of several commemorated by an IRSP mural on the Springfield Road, Belfast.


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Birth of Ciaran Fitzgerald, Former Rugby Union Player

ciaran-fitzgeraldCiaran Fitzgerald, Irish former rugby union player, is born on June 4, 1952 in Loughrea, County Galway. He captains Ireland to the Triple Crown in 1982 and 1985, and the Five Nations Championship in 1983. He also captains the British and Irish Lions on their 1983 tour. After the conclusion of his playing career, he serves as coach of the national team.

Though most widely remembered for playing rugby union, Fitzgerald is an accomplished sportsman, winning two All-Ireland boxing championships. He also plays minor hurling for Galway GAA with his team reaching the minor final against Cork GAA in 1970.

Fitzgerald first plays rugby while at Garbally College, and is chosen to play the position of hooker by teacher and priest John Kirby. He studies at University College Galway, where he plays for University College Galway RFC and gains a Bachelor’s degree in 1973. He then goes on to play senior rugby for St. Mary’s College in Dublin.

Playing in the amateur era, Fitzgerald also maintains a career in the Irish Army. He also serves as the aide-de-camp to President Patrick Hillery during his career.

Fitzgerald rises to prominence in the game of rugby, making his test debut for Ireland against Australia on June 3, 1979, during an Irish tour of Australia. His last test comes against Scotland on March 15, 1986 in the 1986 Five Nations Championship. In total, Fitzgerald receives 22 competitive and three friendly caps for Ireland. He scores once, a try against Wales, in the 1980 Five Nations Championship. He also captains the British and Irish Lions team on their 1983 tour, when the team travels to New Zealand and is beaten in each test against the All Blacks.

Following his retirement from playing, Fitzgerald continues to be involved in the game. He serves as head coach of Ireland from 1990 to 1992, leading the team to the 1991 Rugby World Cup, where they reach the quarterfinals. He also had a career in media, appearing on Setanta Sports and RTÉ, the Irish national TV and radio service, as a rugby pundit.