seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Paul “Dingus” Magee, Volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army

Paul “Dingus” Magee, a former volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast, Northern Ireland, on January 30, 1948.

Magee joins the Belfast Brigade of the IRA and receives a five-year sentence in 1971 for possession of firearms. He is imprisoned in Long Kesh, where he holds the position of camp adjutant. In the late 1970s and early 1980s he is part of a four-man active service unit, along with Joe Doherty and Angelo Fusco, nicknamed the “M60 gang” due to their use of an M60 general-purpose machine gun. On April 9, 1980, the unit lures the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) into an ambush on Stewartstown Road, killing Constable Stephen Magill and wounding two others. On May 2 the unit is planning another attack and has taken over a house on Antrim Road, when an eight-man patrol from the British Army‘s Special Air Service (SAS) arrives in plain clothes, after being alerted by the RUC. A car carrying three SAS members goes to the rear of the house, and another car carrying five SAS members arrives at the front of the house. As the SAS members at the front of the house exit the car the IRA unit opens fire with the M60 machine gun from an upstairs window, hitting Captain Herbert Westmacott in the head and shoulder. Westmacott is killed instantly and is the highest-ranking member of the SAS killed in Northern Ireland. The remaining SAS members at the front of the house, armed with Colt Commando automatic rifles, submachine guns and Browning pistols, return fire but are forced to withdraw. Magee is apprehended by the SAS members at the rear of the house while attempting to prepare the IRA unit’s escape in a transit van, while the other three IRA members remain inside the house. More members of the security forces are deployed to the scene, and after a brief siege the remaining members of the IRA unit surrender.

The trial of Magee and the other members of the M60 gang begins in early May 1981, with them facing charges including three counts of murder. On June 10 Magee and seven other prisoners, including Joe Doherty, Angelo Fusco and the other member of the IRA unit, take a prison officer hostage at gunpoint in Crumlin Road Jail. After locking the officer in a cell, the eight take other officers and visiting solicitors hostage, also locking them in cells after taking their clothing. Two of the eight wear officer’s uniforms while a third wears clothing taken from a solicitor, and the group moves toward the first of three gates separating them from the outside world. They take the officer on duty at the gate hostage at gunpoint and force him to open the inner gate. An officer at the second gate recognises one of the prisoners and runs into an office and presses an alarm button, and the prisoners run through the second gate towards the outer gate. An officer at the outer gate tries to prevent the escape but is attacked by the prisoners, who escape onto Crumlin Road. As the prisoners are moving toward the car park where two cars are waiting, an unmarked RUC car pulls up across the street outside Crumlin Road Courthouse. The RUC officers open fire, and the prisoners return fire before escaping in the waiting cars. Two days after the escape, Magee is convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum recommended term of thirty years.

Magee escapes across the border into the Republic of Ireland. Eleven days after the escape he appears in public at the Wolfe Tone commemoration in Bodenstown Graveyard, County Kildare, where troops from the Irish Army and the Garda‘s Special Branch attempt to arrest him but fail after the crowd throws missiles and lay down in the road blocking access. He is arrested in January 1982 along with Angelo Fusco and sentenced to ten years imprisonment for the escape under extra-jurisdictional legislation. Shortly before his release from prison in 1989, he is served with an extradition warrant, and he starts a legal battle to avoid being returned to Northern Ireland. In October 1991, the Supreme Court of Ireland in Dublin orders his return to Northern Ireland to serve his sentence for the murder of Captain Westmacott, but Magee jumps bail and a warrant is issued for his arrest.

Magee flees to England, where he is part of an IRA active service unit. On June 7, 1992, Magee and another IRA member, Michael O’Brien, are traveling in a car on the A64 road between York and Tadcaster, when they are stopped by the police. Magee and O’Brien are questioned by the unarmed police officers, who become suspicious and call for back-up. Magee shoots Special Constable Glenn Goodman, who dies later in hospital, and then shoots the other officer, PC Kelly, four times. Kelly escapes death when a fifth bullet ricochets off the radio he is holding to his ear, and the IRA members drive away. Another police car begins to follow the pair, and comes under fire near Burton Salmon. The lives of the officers in the car are in danger, but Magee and O’Brien flee the scene after a member of the public arrives. A manhunt is launched, and hundreds of police officers, many of them armed, search woods and farmland. Magee and O’Brien evade capture for four days by hiding in a culvert, before they are both arrested in separate police operations in the town of Pontefract.

On March 31, 1993, Magee is found guilty of the murder of Special Constable Goodman and the attempted murder of three other police officers and sentenced to life imprisonment. O’Brien is found guilty of attempted murder and receives an eighteen-year sentence. On September 9, 1994, Magee and five other prisoners, including Danny McNamee, escape from HM Prison Whitemoor. The prisoners, in possession of two guns that had been smuggled into the prison, scale the prison walls using knotted sheets. A guard is shot and wounded during the escape, and the prisoners are captured after being chased across fields by guards and the police. In 1996 Magee stages a dirty protest in HM Prison Belmarsh, in protest at glass screens separating prisoners from their relatives during visits. He has refused to accept visits from his wife and five children for two years, prompting Sinn Féin to accuse the British government of maintaining “a worsening regime that is damaging physically and psychologically.”

In January 1997, Magee and the other five escapees from Whitemoor are on trial on charges relating to the escape for a second time, as four months earlier the first trial had been stopped because of prejudicial publicity. Lawyers for the defendants successfully argued that an article in the Evening Standard prejudiced the trial as it contained photographs of Magee and two other defendants and described them as “terrorists,” as an order had been made at the start of the trial preventing any reference to the background and previous convictions of the defendants. Despite the judge saying the evidence against the defendants was “very strong”, he dismisses the case stating, “What I have done is the only thing I can do in the circumstances. The law for these defendants is the same law for everyone else. They are entitled to that, whatever they have done.”

On May 5, 1998, Magee is repatriated to the Republic of Ireland to serve the remainder of his sentence in Portlaoise Prison, along with Liam Quinn and the members of the Balcombe Street Gang. He is released from prison in late 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and returns to live with his family in Tralee, County Kerry. On March 8, 2000, he is arrested on the outstanding Supreme Court extradition warrant from 1991 and remanded to Mountjoy Prison. The following day he is granted bail at the High Court in Dublin, after launching a legal challenge to his extradition. In November 2000 the Irish government informs the High Court that it is no longer seeking to return him to Northern Ireland. This follows a statement from Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Mandelson saying that “it is clearly anomalous to pursue the extradition of people who appear to qualify for early release under the Good Friday Agreement scheme, and who would, on making a successful application to the Sentence Review Commissioners, have little if any of their original prison sentence to serve.” In December 2000 Magee and three other IRA members, including two other members of the M60 gang, are granted a Royal Prerogative of Mercy which allows them to return to Northern Ireland without fear of prosecution.


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Birth of Kitty Kiernan, Fiancée of Michael Collins

Catherine Brigid “Kitty” Kiernan, Irish woman widely known as the fiancée of Irish revolutionary leader and Chairman of the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State, Michael Collins, is born on January 26, 1892, in Granard, County Longford.

Kiernan is born to Peter Kiernan and Bridget (née Dawson). She is educated at Loreto Convent, County Wicklow. Hers is a very comfortably-off merchant family with five sisters and one brother. Her parents enjoy a happy marriage, and life in the Kiernan home is joyous until Kitty reaches her teens. On November 27, 1907, her sister, Elizabeth Mary (a twin), dies at the age of eighteen of pulmonary tuberculosis, while Elizabeth’s twin sister, Rose, apparently dies the same year in Davos, Switzerland, which would also indicate tuberculosis as a cause of death. Her mother dies on November 29, 1908 of apoplexy, while her father dies almost exactly a year later, on November 9, 1909, of pneumonia. The Kiernan family owns the Greville Arms Hotel in the town, as well as a grocery shop, a hardware store, a timber and undertaking business and also a bar. Around the corner from the hotel they operate a bakery which supplies the town and most of the surrounding countryside. All the family works in one capacity or another.

Michael Collins, one of the principal founders of the independent Irish state, is introduced to the vivacious Kiernan sisters by his cousin Gearóid O’Sullivan, who is already dating Maud Kiernan. Collins initially falls for the captivating Helen Kiernan, but she is already engaged to someone else. He then turns his interests to Kitty, who has already captured the interest of Collins’ friend Harry Boland. However, it is Collins to whom Kitty becomes engaged, with plans to marry Collins in a November 1922 double ceremony to include the nuptials of Maud and Gearóid. Collins’ assassination four months earlier, on August 22, 1922, near Béal na Bláth, County Cork, results in a single wedding taking place.

On June 10, 1925, Kiernan marries Felix Cronin, who is Quartermaster General in the Irish Army. They have two sons, Felix Jnr. and Michael Collins Cronin. Felix Jnr. and his son Rex are interred with his parents in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Kiernan dies, aged 52, of a cerebral hemorrhage on July 24, 1945, and her grave is close to that of Collins. Felix Cronin dies suddenly on October 22, 1961, while playing golf at Woodbrook Golf Club and is also buried in Glasnevin.

Kiernan and Michael Collins keep up a lengthy correspondence and while Collins is in London during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations, he writes to her every day. The bulk of these letters are written between 1919 and 1922, and through their almost daily contact emerges a picture of the dreams and aspirations of the man often called Ireland’s “lost leader” and the woman with whom he wanted to share a “normal” life. These letters are the subject of a book written by Leon Ó Broin entitled In Great Haste. In 2000, some of the 300 letters sent by Kiernan and Collins to each other go on permanent display at the Cork Public Museum. These letters give a great insight into her attitude to life and into the political events of this time.

Former Fine Gael minister Peter Barry donates his collection of historic letters to the Lord Mayor of Cork, on behalf of the municipal museum. The collection, purchased from the Cronin family in 1995, is conserved at the Delmas bindery at Marsh’s Library in Dublin. The letters are also catalogued and then returned to the Cork Public Museum. The Peter Barry collection also contains letters from Harry Boland, a friend of Collins and former suitor of Kiernan.

In the 1996 film Michael Collins, Kiernan is played by American actress Julia Roberts though some reviewers are critical of the character’s development.

A number of Irish pubs are named in memory of Kiernan, such as one in Donnycarney, Dublin, one in Waterford, and one in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn in New York. A similar pub in Linz, Austria is closed in 2009.


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Birth of Charlie Kerins, Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army

Charlie Kerins, a physical force Irish Republican and Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Caherina, Tralee, County Kerry, on January 23, 1918. He is one of six IRA men who are executed by the Irish State between September 1940 and December 1944.

Kerins attends Balloonagh Mercy Convent School and then the CBS, Edward Street. At the age of 13, he wins a Kerry County Council scholarship and completes his secondary education at the Green Christian Brothers and the Jeffers Institute. In 1930, he passes the Intermediate Certificate with honours and the matriculation examination to the National University of Ireland (NUI). He later does a commercial course and takes up employment in a radio business in Tralee.

In 1940, Kerins is sworn into the IRA and is appointed to the GHQ staff in May 1942. At the time, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera is determined to preserve Irish neutrality during World War II. Therefore, the IRA’s bombing campaign in England, its attacks against targets in Northern Ireland, and its ties to the intelligence services of Nazi Germany are regarded as severe threats to Ireland’s national security. IRA men who are captured by the Gardaí are interned for the duration of the war by the Irish Army in the Curragh Camp in County Kildare.

On the morning of September 9, 1942, Garda Detective Sergeant Denis O’Brien is leaving his home in Ballyboden, Dublin. He is between his front gate and his car when he is cut down with Thompson submachine guns. O’Brien, an Anti-Treaty veteran of the Irish Civil War, had enlisted in the Garda Síochána in 1933. He is one of the most effective Detectives of the Special Branch division, which has its headquarters at Dublin Castle. The shooting greatly increases public feeling against the IRA, particularly as the murder is carried out in full view of his wife.

Following the arrest of Hugh McAteer in October 1942, Kerins is named Chief of Staff of the IRA. Despite a massive manhunt by Gardaí, he remains at large for two years. He stays at a County Waterford home for two weeks while he is on the run, having given his name as Pat Carney. He is captured several months after he leaves the home.

Kerins had previously left papers and guns hidden at Kathleen Farrell’s house in the Dublin suburb of Rathmines. He telephones the house, as he intends to retrieve them. However, Farrell’s telephone had been tapped by the Gardaí. On June 15, 1944, he is arrested in an early morning raid. He is sleeping when the Gardaí enter his bedroom and does not have an opportunity to reach the Thompson submachine gun which is hidden under his bed.

At a trial before the Special Criminal Court in Collins Barracks, Dublin, Kerins is formally charged on October 2, 1944, for the “shooting at Rathfarnham of Detective Dinny O’Brien.” At the end of his trial, the president of the Military Court delays sentence until later in the day to allow Kerins, if he wishes, to make an application whereby he might avoid a capital sentence. When the court resumes, he says, “You could have adjourned it for six years as far as I am concerned, as my attitude towards this Court will always be the same.” He thus deprives himself of the right to give evidence, to face cross-examination, or to call witnesses.

Despite legal moves initiated by Seán MacBride, public protests, and parliamentary intervention by TDs from Clann na Talmhan, Labour, and Independent Oliver J. Flanagan in Leinster House, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera refuses to issue a reprieve. On December 1, 1944, in Mountjoy Prison, Kerins is hanged by British chief executioner Albert Pierrepoint, who is employed by the Irish Government for such occasions.

Kerins is the last IRA member to be executed in the Republic of Ireland. He is buried in the prison yard. In September 1948, his remains are exhumed and released to his family. He is buried in the Republican plot at Rath Cemetery, Tralee, County Kerry.


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Death of Simon Luttrell, 1st Earl of Carhampton

Simon Luttrell, 1st Earl of Carhampton, Anglo-Irish politician who sits in the House of Commons of Great Britain from 1754 to 1780, dies on January 14, 1787.

Luttrell is born in 1713, the second son of Henry Luttrell, of Luttrellstown Castle (whose family had held Luttrellstown Castle and the demesne and adjoining lands since the land had been granted to Sir Geoffrey de Luterel in about 1210 by King John of England) and his wife Elizabeth Jones. His father is a noted commander in the Jacobite Irish Army between 1689 and 1691. He later receives a pardon from the Williamite authorities and is accused by his former Jacobite comrades of having betrayed them. He is murdered when his sedan chair is attacked in Dublin on October 22, 1717.

Luttrell serves as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons of Great Britain for four constituencies: Mitchell (1755–1761), Wigan (1761–1768), Weobley (1768–1774) and Stockbridge (1774–1780).

On October 13, 1768, Luttrell is created Baron Irnham of Luttrellstown in the Peerage of Ireland. As his title is an Irish peerage, he is able to keep his seat in the British House of Commons. He is elevated to the title of Viscount Carhampton on January 9, 1781 and is made Earl of Carhampton on June 23, 1785. He lives at Four Oaks Hall, Four Oaks, Sutton Coldfield, from 1751 to 1766.

On January 22, 1735 Luttrell marries Judith Maria Lawes, daughter of Sir Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica and Elizabeth Cotton (née Lawley), by whom he has eight children:

Luttrell’s rakish behaviour earns him the nickname “King of Hell,” with “Hell” being a district of Dublin notorious for its brothels. He reputedly starts the courtesan Mary Nesbitt in her career by seducing her.

Luttrell dies at Four Oaks, Warwick, England, on January 14, 1787. He is buried at Kingsbury, Warwick, England.


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Death of Tom Aherne, Irish Footballer & Hurler

Thomas Aherne, Irish footballer and hurler also referred to as Bud Aherne, dies on December 30, 1999. He plays football for Belfast Celtic F.C. and Luton Town F.C. and is a dual internationalist, playing for both Ireland teams – the IFA XI and the FAI XI. In 1949 he is a member of the FAI XI that defeats England 2–0 at Goodison Park, becoming the first non-UK team to beat England at home. As a hurler he also plays one game for Limerick.

Aherne is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on January 26, 1919. As a youth, he initially emerges as a prominent hurler with Treaty Sarsfields and also plays one game for Limerick. However he subsequently decides to concentrate on football and begins his senior career with Limerick United where his teammates include Davy Walsh. During World War II, he serves in the Irish Army and is stationed at Crosshaven. His impressive performances in the League of Ireland attract attention and in 1946 he is signed by Belfast Celtic.

While at Belfast Celtic, Aherne plays alongside Jackie Vernon, Billy McMillan, Robin Lawler and Johnny Campbell and helps them win the Irish Cup in 1947 and an Irish League title in 1948. He is also at Celtic during the infamous Boxing Day riot which breaks out during a game against local rivals Linfield F.C. In March 1949, he leaves Celtic and signs for Luton Town. However, in May 1949, he temporarily rejoins Celtic for their final tour before the club disbands. Together with McMillan, Campbell, Lawlor, guest player Mick O’Flanagan and manager Elisha Scott, he goes on the Celtic tour of North America. The highlight of the 10-game tour comes on May 29 when Celtic beats the reigning British champions, Scotland, 2–0.

Aherne signed for Luton Town for a fee of £6,000 and makes his English Football League debut on March 19 in a 2–1 away defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. Despite the fact he is over 30 when he joins Luton, he quickly establishes himself as a regular. He plays competitive football into his late thirties and is ever-present during the 1954–55 season when Luton wins promotion to Division One. After playing 288 games for Luton, including 267 in the league, he retires after a hairline fracture of the ankle ends his career. Even then he continues to play for a local league team, Luton Celtic, into his forties.

When Aherne begins his international career in 1946 there are in effect, two Ireland teams, chosen by two rival associations. Both associations, the Belfast-based Irish Football Association and the Dublin-based Football Association of Ireland, claim jurisdiction over the whole of Ireland and select players from the whole island. As a result, several notable Irish players from this era, including Aherne play for both teams.

Between 1946 and 1953 Aherne makes 16 appearances for the FAI XI. He makes his FAI debut in June 1946 during an Iberian tour, playing in both the 3–1 defeat to Portugal on June 16 and then helping the FAI XI gain a surprise 1–0 victory against Spain on June 23. He remains a regular in the FAI XI throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s and is featured prominently in the qualifying rounds for the 1950 FIFA World Cup. He is also a member of the FAI XI team that defeats England 2–0 at Goodison Park, becoming the first non-UK team to beat England at home.

On November 16, 1953, during a 1–1 draw with France, Aherne briefly becomes involved in controversy. Although only a friendly, the game quickly becomes heated and at one point, with Aherne chasing Raymond Kopa down the tunnel after play had been stopped for a foul. Kopa allegedly runs for his life after upsetting Aherne once too often. The FAI selectors are not impressed and Aherne is told a repeat will end his international career. As it turns out, he makes only one more appearance for the FAI XI. That comes on October 4, 1953, in 5–3 defeat against France during a qualifier for the 1954 FIFA World Cup.

Between 1946 and 1950, Aherne also makes six appearances for the IFA XI. These include two Victory Internationals played in early 1946. On February 2 at Windsor Park, he makes his debut for the IFA XI in a 3–2 defeat to Scotland. Then on May 4 he helps the IFA XI defeat Wales 1–0 at Ninian Park. On September 28, 1946, he also plays for the IFA XI in a heavy defeat to England. The highlight of his career with the IFA XI comes on October 4, 1947 when he helps them gain a 2–0 win against Scotland.

Ahern makes his last appearance for the IFA XI in a 0–0 draw with Wales on March 8, 1950. As well as being part of the 1950 British Home Championship, the game also doubles up as a qualifier for the 1950 FIFA World Cup. Aherne, together with Con Martin, Reg Ryan and Davy Walsh, is one of four players from the Republic, included in the IFA XI that day and as a result he plays for two different associations in the same FIFA World Cup tournament. This situation eventually leads to intervention by FIFA and as a result Aherne becomes one of the last four Republic-born players to play for the IFA XI.

After retiring as a player Aherne settles in Luton where he coaches the Luton Town youth team, works in the local car industry and runs a very successful licensed premises. He also continues to visit Limerick regularly and remains healthy and active until he is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the mid-1990s. He dies on December 30, 1999 at the age of 80 and is survived by his wife, Eileen, two sons, Pat and Brian, and three daughters, Maura, Trisha and Catherine.


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Death of Florence O’Donoghue, Historian & Member of the Irish Republican Army

Florence O’Donoghue, historian and head of intelligence of the Cork No. 1 Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence, dies on December 18, 1967, in Mercy University Hospital, Cork, County Cork.

O’Donoghue is born in Rathmore, County Kerry, on July 22, 1894, the son of farmer Patrick O’Donoghue and Margaret Cronin. He moves to Cork in 1910, where he works as an apprentice in the drapery trade.

The 1916 Easter Rising is a watershed in O’Donoghue’s life. In December 1916, he joins the Cork branch of the Irish Volunteers. In early 1917, he is elected unanimously First Lieutenant of the Cyclist Company and as a result devotes all his spare time to Volunteer work. He begins writing weekly for two years for The Irish World newspaper. By May 1917, he is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and in October, Tomás Mac Curtain appoints him head of communications of the Cork Brigade. He replaces Pat Higgins as Brigade Adjutant in February 1917. He is a key organiser in the sensational jailbreak of Captain Donnchadh Mac Niallghuis on Armistice Day 1918 and takes personal responsibility for his protection. Michael Collins is the last officer from Volunteers General Headquarters to visit Cork shortly after Christmas 1919, until the truce in 1921.

O’Donoghue builds up an intelligence network and agents which includes his future wife, Josephine Marchment. She is head female clerk at the 6th Division Headquarters at Victoria Barracks, Cork, and passes on secret British Army correspondence to him. He recruits people to open letters, tap phone lines and intercept telegrams. The Irish Republican Army has 2,000 active members in Cork which are also used for intelligence gathering. By March 1920, after killing a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Inspector, he is on the run and serving full-time in the IRA. In November of that year, the Cork Brigade kills six British Army officers and executes five Cork civilians on suspicion of spying.

After two and a half years of fighting, a truce is agreed upon on July 11, 1921. When the Dáil approves the Anglo-Irish Treaty, in January 1922, the IRA splits into pro- and anti-Treaty camps. Over the coming months and after being elected onto the army’s executive as Adjutant General, O’Donoghue warns of the dangers of an Irish Civil War. In June 1922, he resigns from the army’s national executive and a month later, on July 3, 1922, from the army. Civil war does break out on June 28, 1922 between pro- and anti-Treaty factions, much to his dismay.

During the Irish Civil War, O’Donoghue remains neutral and tries to organise a truce to end the fighting. In December 1922, he forms a group called the “Neutral IRA”, along with Seán O’Hegarty, composed of pro-truce IRA men. He claims he has 20,000 members in this group. He campaigns for a month’s truce between the two sides, so that a political compromise could be reached. However, his efforts come to nothing and in March 1923, he winds up the “Neutral IRA,” judging that its objectives cannot be achieved. The Irish Civil War ends on May 24, 1923.

O’Donoghue serves as major in the Irish Army from 1939-1946. He forms a Supplementary Intelligence Service that is to remain behind enemy lines in the event of an invasion. He also teaches guerrilla warfare tactics to new army recruits.

O’Donoghue marries Josephine Brown (née Marchment) in April 1921 and they have four children. The couple also adopts two children from Josephine’s first marriage, including Reggie Brown, whom O’Donoghue kidnaps from his grandparents in Wales in 1920. He becomes a rate collector and remains outside politics.

In later years O’Donoghue becomes a respected historian. While in the army he edits An Cosantóir, the Irish Army’s magazine. He convinces Éamon de Valera to establish the Bureau of Military History to record personal accounts from the Irish War of Independence. He is a recording officer until 1948. His most famous work is his biography on Liam Lynch, entitled No Other Law.

O’Donoghue dies on December 18, 1967, and Tom Barry gives the graveside oration. His papers are in the National Library of Ireland (NLI) and his statement to the Bureau of Military History is in the Military Archives.


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Birth of Michael O’Riordan, Founder of the Communist Party of Ireland

Michael O’Riordan, the founder of the Communist Party of Ireland who also fights with the Connolly Column in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, is born at 37 Pope’s Quay, Cork, County Cork, on November 12, 1917.

O’Riordan is the youngest of five children. His parents come from the West Cork Gaeltacht of BallingearyGougane Barra. Despite his parents being native speakers of the Irish language, it is not until he is interned in the Curragh Camp during World War II that he learns Irish, being taught by fellow internee Máirtín Ó Cadhain, who goes on to lecture at Trinity College, Dublin.

As a teenager, O’Riordan joins the Irish nationalist youth movement, Fianna Éireann, and then the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The IRA at the time is inclined toward left-wing politics and socialism. Much of its activity concerns street fighting with the quasi-fascist Blueshirt movement and he fights Blueshirt fascism on the streets of Cork in 1933–34. He is friends with left-wing inclined republicans such as Peadar O’Donnell and Frank Ryan, and in 1934, he follows them into the Republican Congress, a short-lived socialist republican party.

O’Riordan joins the Communist Party of Ireland in 1935 while still in the IRA and works on the communist newspaper The Irish Workers’ Voice. In 1937, following the urgings of Peadar O’Donnell, several hundred Irishmen, mostly IRA or ex-IRA men, go to fight for the Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War with the XVth International Brigade. They are motivated in part by enmity towards the 800 or so Blueshirts, led by Eoin O’Duffy who go to Spain to fight on the “nationalist” side in the Irish Brigade. He accompanies a party led by Frank Ryan. In the Republic’s final offensive of July 25, 1938, he carries the flag of Catalonia across the River Ebro. On August 1, he is severely injured by shrapnel on the Ebro front. He is repatriated to Ireland the following month, after the International Brigades are disbanded.

In 1938 O’Riordan is offered an Irish Army commission by the Irish Free State but chooses instead to train IRA units in Cork. As a result of his IRA activities during World War II, or the Emergency as it is known in neutral Ireland, he is interned in the Curragh internment camp from 1939 until 1943 where he is Officer Commanding of the Cork Hut and partakes in Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Gaelic League classes as well as publishing Splannc (Irish for “Spark,” named after Vladimir Lenin‘s newspaper).

In 1944 O’Riordan is founding secretary of the Liam Mellows Branch of the Labour Party and in 1945 is a founding secretary of the Cork Socialist Party, whose other notable members include Derry Kelleher, Kevin Neville and Máire Keohane-Sheehan.

O’Riordan subsequently works as a bus conductor in Cork and is active in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU). In 1946 he stands as a Cork Socialist Party candidate in the Cork Borough by-election and afterwards moves to Dublin where he lives in Victoria Street with his wife Kay Keohane of Clonakilty, continues to work as a bus conductor and remains active in the ITGWU.

In 1947, O’Riordan is a founding secretary of the Irish Workers’ League and general secretary thereafter, and of its successor organisation the Irish Workers’ Party from 1962–70.

In the 1960s, O’Riordan is a pivotal figure in the Dublin Housing Action Committee which agitates for clearances of Dublin’s slums and for the building of social housing. There, he befriends Fr. Austin Flannery, leading Minister for Finance and future Taoiseach Charles Haughey to dismiss Flannery as “a gullible cleric” while the Minister for Local Government, Kevin Boland, describes him as a “so-called cleric” for sharing a platform with O’Riordan.

In all O’Riordan runs for election five times, campaigning throughout for the establishment of a socialist republic in Ireland but given Ireland’s Catholic conservatism and fear of communism, he does so without success. He does, however, receive playwright Sean O’Casey‘s endorsement in 1951.

O’Riordan’s participation in the Spanish Civil War is always an important part of his political identity. In 1966 he attends the International Brigades’ Reunion in Berlin and is instrumental in having Frank Ryan’s remains repatriated from Germany to Ireland in 1979.

O’Riordan is a member of the Irish Chile Solidarity Committee and attends the 1st Party Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in 1984. He also campaigns on behalf of the Birmingham Six and attends their Appeal trial in 1990. He serves as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland (1970–83) and as National Chairman of the party (1983–88). He publishes many articles under the auspices of the CPI.

O’Riordan’s last major public outing comes in 2005 at the re-dedication of the memorial outside Dublin’s Liberty Hall to the Irish veterans of the Spanish Civil War. He and other veterans are received by President of Ireland Mary McAleese. He is also presented with Cuba’s Medal of Friendship by the Cuban Consul Teresita Trujillo to Ireland on behalf of Cuban President Fidel Castro.

In 1969, according to Soviet dissident Vasili Mitrokhin, O’Riordan is approached by IRA leaders Cathal Goulding and Seamus Costello with a view to obtaining guns from the Soviet KGB to defend Irish republican areas of Belfast during the communal violence that marks the outbreak of the Troubles. Mitrokhin alleges that O’Riordan then contacts the Kremlin, but the consignment of arms does not reach Ireland until 1972. The operation is known as Operation Splash. The IRA splits in the meantime between the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA and it is the latter faction who receives the Soviet arms. Mitrokhin’s allegations are repeated in Boris Yeltsin‘s autobiography.

O’Riordan’s book, Connolly Column – The Story of the Irishmen who fought for the Spanish Republic 1936–1939, is published in 1979 and deals with the Irish volunteers of the International Brigade who fought in support of the Spanish Republic against Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). An updated version of the book is reprinted in 2005 and is launched by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr. Michael Conaghan at a book launch at SIPTU headquarters, Liberty Hall. The book is the inspiration for Irish singer-songwriter Christy Moore‘s famous song “Viva la Quinta Brigada.”

In 1991, O’Riordan’s wife dies at the age of 81 at their home. He continues to live in their family home before moving to Glasnevin in 2000 to be close to his son Manus who lives nearby. He lives there until falling ill in November 2005 and is taken to the Mater Hospital. His health rapidly deteriorates and he quickly develops Alzheimer’s disease. Soon afterwards he is moved to St. Mary’s Hospital in the Phoenix Park where he spends the final few months of his life, before his death at the age of 88 on May 18, 2006.

O’Riordan’s funeral at Glasnevin Crematorium is attended by over a thousand mourners. Following a wake the previous night at Finglas Road, hundreds turn up outside the house of his son Manus and traffic grounds to a halt as family, friends and comrades – many of whom are waving the red flag of the Communist Party of Ireland – escort O’Riordan to Glasnevin Cemetery. A secular ceremony takes place led by Manus O’Riordan, Head of Research at SIPTU, with contributions from O’Riordan’s family, Communist Party general secretary Eugene McCartan and IBMT representative Pauline Frasier.

The funeral congregation includes politicians such as Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte, his predecessor Ruairi Quinn, party front-bencher Joan Burton, Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe and councillor Larry O’Toole, ex-Workers’ Party leader Tomás Mac Giolla and former Fianna Fáil MEP Niall Andrews. Also in attendance are union leaders Jack O’Connor (SIPTU), Mick O’Reilly (ITGWU) and David Begg (ICTU). Actors Patrick Bergin, Jer O’Leary, singer Ronnie Drew, artist Robert Ballagh, and newsreader Anne Doyle are also among the mourners. Tributes are paid by President of Ireland Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Labour Party TDs Ruairi Quinn and Michael D. Higgins.


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The Mountjoy Prison Helicopter Escape

The Mountjoy Prison helicopter escape occurs on October 31, 1973 when three Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers escape from Mountjoy Prison in Dublin aboard a hijacked Alouette II helicopter, which briefly lands in the prison’s exercise yard. The escape makes headlines around the world and is an embarrassment to the Irish coalition government of the time, led by Fine Gael‘s Liam Cosgrave, which is criticised by opposition party Fianna Fáil. A manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána is launched for the escapees, one of whom, Seamus Twomey, is not recaptured until December 1977. The Wolfe Tones write a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song,” which tops the Irish Singles Chart.

Following the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s, the Provisional IRA conducts an armed campaign that seeks to create a united Ireland by ending Northern Ireland‘s status as part of the United Kingdom. As a result of increasing levels of violence in Northern Ireland, internment without trial is introduced there in August 1971, and in the Republic of Ireland the coalition government led by Fine Gael’s Liam Cosgrave is attempting to curb IRA activity. Fine Gael had come to power on a law and order ticket, with a policy of “getting tough on crime.” Suspected IRA members are arrested and accused of IRA membership by a superintendent in the Garda Síochána, a crime under the Offences against the State Acts. They are tried at the juryless Special Criminal Court in Dublin, where the traditional IRA policy of not recognising the court results in a fait accompli as no defence is offered and IRA membership carries a minimum mandatory one-year sentence, resulting in internment in all but name. In September 1973 IRA Chief of Staff Seamus Twomey appears at the Special Criminal Court charged with IRA membership, and states, “I refuse to recognise this British-orientated quisling court.” He is found guilty and receives a five-year sentence. By October 1973 the IRA’s command structure is seriously curbed, with Twomey and other senior republicans J. B. O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon all being held in Mountjoy Prison.

The IRA immediately begins making plans to break Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon out of the prison. The first attempt involves explosives that had been smuggled into the prison, which are to be used to blow a hole in a door which will give the prisoners access to the exercise yard. From there, they are to scale a rope ladder thrown over the exterior wall by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade who are to have a getaway car waiting to complete the escape. The plans when the prisoners cannot gain access to the exercise yard and the rope ladder is spotted, so the IRA begins making new escape plans. The idea of using a helicopter in an escape had been discussed before in a plot to break Gerry Adams out of Long Kesh internment camp but had been ruled out because of faster and more sophisticated British Army helicopters being stationed at a nearby base. The IRA’s GHQ staff approves the plan to break out Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon, and arrangements are made to obtain a helicopter. A man with an American accent calling himself Mr. Leonard approaches the manager of Irish Helicopters at Dublin Airport, with a view to hiring a helicopter for an aerial photographic shoot in County Laois. After being shown the company’s fleet of helicopters, Leonard arranges to hire a five-seater Alouette II for October 31.

Leonard arrives at Irish Helicopters on October 31 and is introduced to the pilot of the helicopter, Captain Thompson Boyes. Boyes is instructed to fly to a field in Stradbally, in order to pick up Leonard’s photographic equipment. After landing Boyes sees two armed, masked men approaching the helicopter from nearby trees. He is held at gunpoint and told he will not be harmed if he follows instructions. Leonard leaves with one gunman, while the other gunman climbs aboard the helicopter armed with a pistol and an ArmaLite rifle. Boyes is instructed to fly towards Dublin following the path of railway lines and the Royal Canal, and is ordered not to register his flight path with Air Traffic Control. As the helicopter approaches Dublin, Boyes is informed of the escape plan and is instructed to land in the exercise yard at Mountjoy Prison.

In the prison’s exercise yard, the prisoners are watching a football match. Shortly after 3:35 p.m. the helicopter swings in to land in the prison yard, with Kevin Mallon directing the pilot using semaphore. A prison officer on duty initially takes no action as he believes the helicopter contains the Minister for Defence, Paddy Donegan. After prisoners surround the eight prison officers in the yard, fights break out as the officers realise an escape attempt is in progress. As other prisoners restrain the officers, Twomey, Mallon and O’Hagan board the helicopter. As the helicopter takes off, in the confusion one officer shouts, “Close the gates, close the fucking gates.” The helicopter flies north and lands at a disused racecourse in the Baldoyle area of Dublin, where the escapees are met by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade. Boyes is released unharmed, and the escapees are transferred to a taxi that had been hijacked earlier and are transported to safe houses.

The escape makes headlines around the world and is an embarrassment for Cosgrave’s government, which is criticised for “incompetence in security matters” by opposition party Fianna Fáil. An emergency debate on security is held in Dáil Éireann on November 1.

The IRA releases a statement on the escape, which reads, “Three republican prisoners were rescued by a special unit from Mountjoy Prison on Wednesday. The operation was a complete success and the men are now safe, despite a massive hunt by Free State forces.” Shortly after the escape Twomey gives an exclusive interview to German magazine Der Spiegel, where the reporter says people throughout Europe are joking about the incident as “the escape of the century.” Irish rebel band the Wolfe Tones writes a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song,” which is immediately banned by the government yet still tops the Irish Singles Chart after selling twelve thousand copies in a single week.

The escape results in all IRA prisoners being held at Mountjoy Prison and Curragh Camp being transferred to the maximum security Portlaoise Prison. In order to prevent any further escapes the perimeter of the prison is guarded by members of the Irish Army, and wires are erected over the prison yard to prevent any future helicopter escape. Cosgrave states there will be “no hiding place” for the escapees, and a manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána ensues.

Mallon is recaptured at a Gaelic Athletic Association dance in a hotel near Portlaoise on December 10, 1973, and imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. He escapes from there in a mass break-out on August 18, 1974, when nineteen prisoners escape after overpowering guards and using gelignite to blast through the gates. He is recaptured in Foxrock in January 1975 and returned to Portlaoise Prison. O’Hagan is recaptured in Dublin in early 1975, and also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. After the end of his original twelve-month sentence, he is immediately arrested and sentenced to a further two years imprisonment for escaping. Twomey evades recapture until December 2, 1977, when he is spotted sitting in a car in Sandycove by members of the Garda’s Special Branch who are investigating an arms shipment after a tip-off from police in Belgium. He drives away after spotting the officers, before being recaptured in the centre of Dublin after a high-speed car chase. He is also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison until his release in 1982.

In 2021, Brendan Hughes publishes an autobiography Up Like a Bird, an account of the planning and organisation of the escape, co-authored with Doug Dalby.


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The Murder of Henry Luttrell, Career Soldier

Henry Luttrell, Irish soldier known for his service in the Jacobite cause, is murdered in Dublin on October 22, 1717, a case that has never been solved. A career soldier, he serves James II in England until his overthrow in 1688. In Ireland he continues to fight for James, reaching the rank of General in the Irish Army.

Luttrell is born in 1655, the second son of Thomas Luttrell of Luttrellstown Castle in County Dublin, an Irish landowner of Catholic heritage. He spends his early life on the Continent, where he kills the so-called 3rd Viscount Purbeck in a duel at Liège.

In England Luttrell is commissioned a Captain in Princess Anne of Denmark‘s Regiment of Foot in 1685 and in 1686 is given command of the 4th Troop of Horse Grenadier Guards. During the Glorious Revolution he fights under Patrick Sarsfield at the Wincanton Skirmish in November 1688. At a time when many officers of the English Army defect to William of Orange, he remains loyal to James II.

Following the disintegration of the English Army and William’s capture of London, Luttrell goes to Ireland. He joins the Irish Army under the command of Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, which has remained loyal to James and is undergoing a major expansion. He and other Catholic officers flock to the army, while Protestants are purged. Protestant inhabitants in Ireland rise, proclaiming their loyalty to William of Orange. While an uprising at Bandon in County Cork is quickly put down, a lengthy Siege of Derry begins. He is given command of a cavalry regiment. He also sits in the Patriot Parliament called by King James, as a representative for County Carlow.

In 1689 Luttrell is made Governor of Sligo, which had recently been recaptured from the enemy by Patrick Sarsfield. He immediately sets about improving the town’s fortifications. He is a friend and supporter of Sarsfield, and backs his policy of continued resistance following the Jacobite defeat the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Luttrell’s precipitate withdrawal with the cavalry of the left flank at the Battle of Aughrim gives rise to suspicions of disloyalty. During the Siege of Limerick, he is found to be in correspondence with the besiegers, and scarcely escapes hanging, bringing his regiment of horse over to the Williamite side after the surrender of the city. As a reward, he receives the forfeited estates of his elder brother, Simon Luttrell, including Luttrellstown, and is made a major general in the Dutch army.

Luttrell attempts to deprive his brother’s widow, Catherine, of her jointure by discreditable means, but is ultimately obliged to yield it to her.

On October 13, 1704, Luttrell marries Elizabeth Jones and has two sons: Robert Luttrell (d. 1727), and Simon Luttrell, 1st Earl of Carhampton (1713–1787).

Luttrell is shot and mortally wounded in his sedan chair on the night of October 21, 1717, on the Blind-quay in Dublin as he is proceeding from Lucas’ Coffee House on Cork-hill to his house in Stafford Street. He dies the following day, at the age of sixty-three. Despite large rewards, the murderers are never apprehended.

His grandson, Henry Luttrell, 2nd Earl of Carhampton, sells Luttrellstown Castle which the family had owned for almost 600 years in 1800. After Luttrellstown Castle is sold Luttrell’s grave is opened and the skull smashed.

(Pictured: Depiction of the Battle of Aughrim (1691) by John Mulvany (c. 1839 – 1906). Luttrell’s conduct during the 1691 battle becomes a subject of historical debate.)


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First Assassination by “The Squad”

On July 30, 1919, the first assassination authorised by Michael Collins is carried out by The Squad, also known as the Twelve Apostles, when Detective Sergeant “the Dog” Smith is shot near Drumcondra, Dublin.

The Squad is an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit founded by Collins to counter British intelligence efforts during the Irish War of Independence, mainly by means of assassination.

On April 10, 1919, the First Dáil announces a policy of ostracism of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men. At the time Sinn Féin official policy is against acts of violence. Boycotting, persuasion and mild intimidation succeed against many officers. However others escalate their activities against republicans and in March 1920 Collins asks Dick McKee to select a small group to form an assassination unit.

When The Squad is formed, it comes directly under the control of the Director of Intelligence or his deputy and under no other authority. The Squad is commanded by Mick McDonnell.

The original “Twelve Apostles” are Mick McDonnell, Tom Keogh, Jimmy Slattery, Paddy Daly, Joe Leonard, Ben Barrett, Vincent Byrne, Sean Doyle, Paddy Griffin, Eddie Byrne, Mick Reilly and Jimmy Conroy. After some time The Squad is strengthened with members Ben Byrne, Frank Bolster, Mick Keogh, Mick Kennedy, Bill Stapleton and Sam Robinson. Owen Cullen, a member of 2nd Battalion, is driver for a short time, and Paddy Kelly of County Clare for a short time. They are employed full-time and received a weekly wage.

Sometimes, as occasion demands, The Squad is strengthened by members of the IRA Intelligence Staff, the Active Service Unit, munition workers and members of the Dublin Brigade, Tipperary Flying Column men, Dan Breen, Séumas Robinson, Seán Treacy and Seán Hogan, and also Mick Brennan and Michael Prendergast of County Clare. The IRA Intelligence Staff consists of the Director of Intelligence Michael Collins, the Deputy Director of Intelligence Liam Tobin, the Second Deputy Director of Intelligence Tom Cullen, the Third Director of Intelligence Frank Thornton, and members Joe Dolan, Frank Saurin, Ned Kelleher, Joe Guilfoyle, Paddy Caldwell, Paddy Kennedy, Charlie Dalton, Dan McDonnell and Charlie Byrne. The munitions workers include Mat Furlong, Sean Sullivan, Gay McGrath, Martin O’ Kelly, Tom Younge and Chris Reilly.

Other members include Mick Love, Gearoid O’Sullivan, Patrick Caldwell, Charlie Dalton, Mick O’Reilly, Sean Healy, James Ronan, Paddy Lawson, John Dunne, Johnny Wilson and James Heery. Seán Lemass and Stephen Behan, the father of Irish writers Brendan and Dominic Behan, have also been listed as members of the Apostles. There is no hard evidence to support the inclusion of many of the names, but those who subsequently serve in the Irish Army have their active service recorded in their service records held in the Military Archives Department in Cathal Brugha Barracks, Rathmines. Andrew Cooney is also reported to have been associated with The Squad. Stephen Behan’s involvement is first made public in 1962, when the BBC broadcasts an episode of This Is Your Life dedicated to Behan. During the broadcast, remaining members of the squad joined Behan on the set of the show.

Following “The Dog” Smith’s assassination, The Squad continues to target plainclothes police, members of the G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and, occasionally, problematic civil servants. Organisationally it operates as a subsection of Collins’ Intelligence Headquarters. Two of the executions by The Squad are the killing on January 21, 1920 of RIC Inspector William Redmond of the DMP “G” Division and on March 2, 1920 a British double agent John Charles Byrnes.

One of the Apostles’ particular targets is the Cairo Gang, a deep-cover British intelligence group, so called since it has either been largely assembled from intelligence officers serving in Cairo or from the Dublin restaurant called The Cairo, which the gang frequents. Sir Henry Wilson brings in the Cairo Gang in the middle of 1920, explicitly to deal with Michael Collins and his organization. Given carte blanche in its operations by Wilson, the Cairo Gang adopts the strategy of assassinating members of Sinn Féin unconnected with the military struggle, assuming that this will cause the IRA to respond and bring its leaders into the open.

The most well-known operation executed by the Apostles occurs on what becomes known as Bloody Sunday, November 21, 1920, when British MI5 officers, linked to the Cairo Gang and significantly involved in spying, are shot at various locations in Dublin with fourteen killed and six wounded. In addition to the The Squad, a larger number of IRA personnel are involved in this operation. The only IRA man captured during the operation is Frank Teeling. In response to the killings, the Black and Tans retaliate by shooting up a Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary at Croke Park, the proceeds from which are for the Irish Republican Prisoners Fund. Fourteen civilians are killed including one of the players, Michael Hogan, and 68 are wounded. The Hogan stand at Croke Park is named after Hogan.

The elimination of the Cairo Gang is seen in Dublin as an intelligence victory, but British Prime Minister David Lloyd George comments dismissively that his men “… got what they deserved, beaten by counter-jumpers…”. Winston Churchill adds that they were “.. careless fellows … who ought to have taken precautions.”

Some members of The Squad are hanged in 1921 for the killings on Bloody Sunday, including Thomas Whelan and Patrick Moran. Moran had killed a vet, Patrick MacCormack, who seems to have been an innocent victim.

In May 1921, after the IRA’s Dublin Brigade takes heavy casualties during the burning of the Custom House, The Squad and the Brigade’s Active Service Unit are amalgamated into the Dublin Guard, under Paddy Daly. Under the influence of Daly and Michael Collins, most of the Guard take the Free State side and join the National Army in the Irish Civil War of 1922–23. During this conflict some of them are attached to the Criminal Investigation Department and are accused of multiple assassinations of Anti-Treaty fighters. They are also involved in several atrocities against Republican prisoners, particularly after the death of Collins, due to many of them having personal ties with him.

Bill Stapleton goes on to become a director in Bord na Móna, Charles Dalton and Frank Saurin become directors in the Irish Sweepstakes. In October 1923, Commandant James Conroy is implicated in the murder of two Jewish men, Bernard Goldberg and Emmanuel ‘Ernest’ Kahn. He avoids arrest by fleeing to Mexico, returning later to join the Blueshirts. A later application for an army pension is rejected. The killings are the subject of a 2010 investigative documentary by RTÉ, CSÍ: Murder in Little Jerusalem.