seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Breandán Ó hEithir, Writer & Broadcaster

Breandán Ó hEithir, Irish writer and broadcaster, is born in Cill Rónáin, Aran, County Galway, on January 18, 1930.

Ó hEithir’s parents are national school teachers, Pádraic Ó hEithir and Delia Ní Fhlaithearta. He is a nephew of Aran Islands authors Liam Ó Flaithearta and Tom Maidhc Ó Flaithearta, the brothers of his mother. He attends the Kilronan national school where his parents teach. He receives his secondary school education at Coláiste Éinde (St. Enda’s College), Galway. He attends University College Galway for three years, finishing his university course in 1952 but leaves without sitting his final examinations. He writes in both Irish and English, and is highly regarded for the originality and liveliness of his journalism, especially his work in Irish.

Ó hEithir marries Catherine von Hildebrand, a young student recently arrived in Dublin from Colombia, in 1957 and they have five children: Ruairí, Máirín, Brian, Aindriú, and Rónán. Catherine is born in Paris, the daughter of Deirdre Mulcahy from Sligo and Franz von Hildebrand from Munich, son of the noted philosopher and theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand.

After college, Ó hEithir spends a number of years working as an itinerant bookseller for Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge. He serves as an editor at Sáirséal agus Dill, the Irish language publishing house, and as Irish language editor for The Irish Press from 1957 to 1963. He also writes a column for The Sunday Press. He is a regular columnist with the journal Comhar and also contributes a weekly column to The Irish Times. He also serves as a staff journalist with Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), working on the current affairs programmes Cúrsaí and Féach.

In 1975 the Irish American Cultural Institute awards Ó hEithir a scholarship of £2,000 to allow him to devote more time to writing. The following year his first novel, Lig sinn i gcathú (1976), loosely based on his student days in Galway, becomes a best-seller. He and Catherine move to Paris in 1986, where most of his second novel, Sionnach ar mo Dhuán (1988), is written. Hopes of having produced his definitive novel are soon dashed by a series of devastating reviews.

Ó hEithir visits Colombia with his wife in the summer of 1990. On his return, he is presented with the Butler literary award of $10,000 in further recognition of his writing in Irish. A month later, after a very short illness, he dies of cancer in St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin on October 26, 1990. He is survived by his wife, Catherine, daughter Máirín, and sons Ruairí, Brian, and Aindriú.

A biography of Ó hEithir has been written by Liam Mac Con Iomaire.


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Death of Anti-Treaty IRA Volunteer Michael Cull

Michael Cull, an anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA) Volunteer from Roscommon, is killed during a raid on Ballyconnell, County Cavan, on January 6, 1923.

Ballyconnell is a small town in western County Cavan. According to the 1911 census it is populated by 125 families, or in the region of 600 people, and is according to local pro-Treaty TD Seán Milroy, “in the values of country towns, a very considerable centre of county life.” Since 1921 it has been wedged up against the new border with County Fermanagh and Northern Ireland to the north and the Arigna Mountains to the south and west. As the Irish Civil War rages south of the border, and with no effective police or military presence, Ballyconnell is particularly vulnerable to the depredations of armed groups of various allegiance.

Cull is part of a contingent of 50-70 anti-Treaty fighters holed up in the Arigna Mountains. As well as guerrilla attacks against the forces of the Irish Free State, one of their most frequent actions, out of necessity, is raids on civilian targets for supplies.

Cull, according to the local newspaper, is holding up Ovens’ hardware and grocery shop in Ballyconnell when he is shot dead by a plain clothes Free State officer. The National Army later derisively refers to “the shooting of a looter named Cull … He and others were raiding in Ballyconnell when a couple of officers who were in the area got in touch with them. This gang of Irregulars have been in the mountains for several months past.”

Cull’s death is by no means the end of Ballyconnell’s troubles. The anti-Treaty column based in the Arigna Mountains, composed of Volunteers from Roscommon, Leitrim and Cavan (which includes Cull’s brother James) and led by Ned Bofin, visits a ferocious revenge on the small town for the death of Cull.

Almost exactly a month later, on the morning of February 5, 1923, at about 7:00 a.m., fifty well-armed anti-Treaty IRA fighters descend on Ballyconnell from the hills in a military lorry and several cars. The guerrillas, armed with rifles and three machine guns, stop the train to nearby Ballinamore so that word cannot get out to adjacent Free State garrisons. They then go in search of those they hold responsible for Cull’s death.

At Oven’s grocery, the proprietor, William Ovens, is shot through the thigh and badly wounded. One of his employees, William Ryan, is dragged out and shot dead. According to the local press, the guerrillas shouted, “Was it you who shot Cull?” at Ryan before they shot him. His 80-year-old father follows the fighters through the streets, shouting “murder, murder.”

Sean McGrath, an Irish language teacher originally from Galway, is also dragged out of bed and shot dead, apparently for no other reason than that he is lodging at the home of Free State supporter John Dunn.

The guerrillas proceed to bomb and burn out three shops, including the car dealership and the Post Office, and to smash the windows of the other premises with shots and rifle butts. The Ulster Bank branch is robbed of £200 and two Ford cars are seized. After a rampage of 35 minutes, the IRA column re-mount their vehicles and head back toward the Arigna Mountains, leaving the little town partially in flames, pockmarked with bullet holes and mourning the death of two of its citizens.

According to the pro-Treaty National Army, “Our troops in Belturbet got word of the raid, and immediately set out in all their transport. They were joined en route by two Fords of troops from Cavan, and all proceeded to Ballyconnell, where they arrived shortly after 9 o’clock. They followed the Irregulars past Ballinamore but failed to get in touch with them.”

(From: “The Tragedies of Ballyconnell” by John Dorney, The Irish Story (www.theirishstory.com), June 19, 2014 | Pictured: The main street of Ballyconnell in the early 20th century)


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Death of IRA Volunteer Fergal O’Hanlon

Fergal O’Hanlon (Irish: Feargal Ó hAnnluain), a volunteer in the Pearse Column of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is killed on January 1, 1957, while taking part in an attack on Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) barracks.

Born into a staunchly republican family on February 2, 1936, in Ballybay, County Monaghan, O’Hanlon is a draughtsman employed by Monaghan County Council. He is a Gaelic footballer and a keen Irish language activist. A devout Catholic, he considers becoming a priest and spends one year at the seminary in St. Macartan’s. He joins the IRA in 1956.

At the age of 20, O’Hanlon is killed on January 1, 1957, along with Seán South while taking part in an attack on the Royal Ulster Constabulary barracks in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, during the border campaign. Several other IRA members are wounded in the botched attack. The IRA flees the scene in a dumper truck. They abandon it near the border. They leave South and O’Hanlon, both then unconscious, in a cow byre, and crossed into the Republic of Ireland on foot for help for their comrades. The wounded IRA men are treated as “car crash victims” by sympathetic staff in the Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Dublin.

The events and personalities are sympathetically recalled in Dominic Behan‘s ballad “The Patriot Game.” O’Hanlon is mentioned in the song “Seán South of Garryowen” (“Brave Hanlon by his side”).

O’Hanlon’s mother remains firmly committed to the IRA and is hurt by the suggestion that there was an alternative to IRA activity or that her son was anything other than an Irish hero.

A marble monument now stands at the spot where South and O’Hanlon lost their lives. An annual lecture has been held in memory of O’Hanlon since 1982, and approximately 500 people attended a 50th commemoration of the men’s deaths in January 2007 in Limerick.

In 1971, a monument is unveiled to O’Hanlon in his hometown on a hill overlooking the Clones Road on which he had made his last journey home. A Gaelic football team is founded in Monaghan in 2003 and called the Fergal O’Hanlons.

O’Hanlon’s brother, Eighneachán Ó hAnnluain, is elected a Sinn Féin abstentionist TD in the 1957 Irish general election to Dáil Éireann. His sister, Pádraigín Uí Mhurchadha, is a Sinn Féin Councillor on Monaghan Urban Council.


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Murder of Nicholas Walsh, Church of Ireland Bishop of Ossory

Nicholas Walsh, (Irish: Nicolás Bhailis), Church of Ireland Bishop of Ossory and a pioneer of printing in Irish type, is murdered on December 14, 1585, by James Dullerde, against whom he had proceeded in his court for adultery.

Walsh is born in Waterford, County Waterford, in or before 1538. He is the son of Patrick Walsh, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore (d. 1578). The identity of his mother is unknown. She was Patrick’s concubine for many years and they apparently married only after 1558, meaning their son was born outside marriage. About 1551 Walsh leaves Ireland to study at the universities of Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge, eventually graduating BA at Cambridge in 1562 or 1563. He receives the MA from Cambridge in 1567. He is appointed chancellor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, in 1571.

As a fluent Irish speaker, Walsh is deeply committed to the propagation of the Protestant faith through the medium of the Irish language. In 1571 he helps to secure the publication in Dublin of a catechism written in Irish by John Kearney (Irish: Seán Ó Cearnaigh), whom he has known since his time at Cambridge. He then procures a government order for printing the Book of Common Prayer in Irish, and for the liturgy and a sermon to be communicated in Irish in a church in each large town. In practice this order has no effect. From about 1573 he and Kearney begin work on an Irish translation of the New Testament. This project is finally completed and published in 1602 or 1603. He also writes a collection of sermons in Latin.

In 1572 Walsh is offered the bishopric of Kilmacduagh in Connacht but declines as this diocese lay in a dangerous part of the country. In February 1578 he becomes Bishop of Ossory, upon which he resigns his chancellorship at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and presumably sets aside his translation of the New Testament. Through his family he has links with the area of his diocese, and he is assured of the protection of the dominant magnate, Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond. However, Catholicism is very strong in Ossory, particularly in the diocesan capital of Kilkenny. His arrival at Kilkenny is ignored by the citizens, and he finds himself presiding over an empty St. Canice’s Cathedral during Sunday services. In November 1578 he writes for support to the Lord Justice of Ireland, Sir William Drury, who empowers Walsh to fine recusants. That month Drury comes to Kilkenny and heavily fines a number of prominent citizens of Kilkenny for recusancy. However, these punitive efforts have little long-term impact and only increased Walsh’s unpopularity.

Walsh is further hampered by a lack of revenues from his diocese, which leads him in April 1581 to seek additional benefices that he can hold in commendam. in July 1582 he seeks a licence to solicit charitable donations in England. He also initiates legal proceedings to recover church property. At a time when the Church of Ireland episcopate is characterised by venality, cynicism, and crypto-Catholicism, he stands head and shoulders above his colleagues owing to his dedication, ability, and evangelising zeal. At the installation of the Bishop of Meath in 1584 he criticises his fellow bishops for neglecting their spiritual duties for political concerns. He is married to an Englishwoman and has four children.

Walsh’s life comes to a violent end on December 14, 1585, when he is stabbed to death in his own house at Kilkenny by James Dullerde, whom he had cited for adultery in his consistory court. He is buried in a tomb in St. Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. Dullerde is caught and beheaded by Domhnall Spanaigh Kavanagh MacMurrough and his brother Cahir Carroughe.

(From: “Walsh, Nicholas (Nicolás Bhailis)” by Anthony M. McCormack and Terry Clavin, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, October 2009 | Pictured: Coat of arms of the Bishop of Ossory)


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Birth of Criostóir Mac Aonghusa, Teacher, Author, & Campaigner for Irish Language

Criostóir Mac Aonghusa, teacher, author, critic, and campaigner for the Irish language, is born on December 13, 1905, in Gort an Ghabhainn, Banagher, King’s County (now County Offaly), son of Francis McGuiness (surname thus on his birth certificate), farmer, and his wife, Rosanna (née Egan). He is educated at La Sainte Foi, Banagher, Reachra national school, Shannonbridge, and Naas CBS. He qualifies as a primary school teacher from De La Salle Training College, Waterford, in 1926 and has the distinction of being the first person to sit all exams through the medium of Irish. He graduates BA at University College Galway (UCG) in 1933 and his further education includes a diploma in Spanish literature from University of Barcelona and an MA on the Irish scholar Tomás Ó Máille.

Mac Aonghusa’s teaching career begins in 1926 when he becomes headmaster on Inis Treabhair, County Galway, spending fourteen months there. Afterwards he transfers to Gort Mór, Rosmuc, County Galway, where he continues teaching until 1962. He remains an active member of Cumann na Múinteoirí Náisiúnta throughout his life. Between 1962 and 1972 he is employed as an ad-hoc examiner at the civil service commission. An active member of Fianna Fáil, he helps to organise the party in County Galway in the 1920s and 1930s, and is elected a member of Galway County Council in 1934.

Mac Aonghusa is a prominent advocate of the Irish language and together with his close friend Máirtín Ó Cadhain and another Connemara schoolteacher, Seosamh Mac Mathúna, founds Cumann na Gaeltachta to agitate for the civil rights of the Gaeltacht communities and of Irish-speakers in general. He is one of the main campaigners for the establishment of the Rath Carn Gaeltacht in County Meath and forms part of the delegation that meets Éamon de Valera on November 11, 1932 and receives from him a promise to provide land in County Meath for that purpose. The Gaeltacht is established in 1935. Mac Aonghusa continues to support the project throughout his life and is involved in further campaigns relating to the area, including the recognition of Rath Carn’s Gaeltacht status. He is also an active member of Conradh na Gaeilge in the 1940s and is later involved in the campaign for the establishment of an Irish-language television broadcasting service.

Mac Aonghusa is a prolific writer and begins publishing short stories and articles from 1926 onward. His contributions appear in An tÉireannach, An Phoblacht, The Irish Tribune, An Stoc, and Ar Aghaidh. From 1948, he is a regular contributor to Feasta and his essays and reviews on Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s works appear in Comhar. He is a member of several literary organisations, including Cumann na Scríbhneoirí and the Galway Literary Society. His first book, An Cladóir agus scéalta eile, appears in 1952. Between 1963 and 1972 he is a contributor to The Irish Press and works also as a literary journalist. An essay on Pádraic Ó Conaire earns him a prize from Acadamh Liteartha na hÉireann.

Mac Aonghusa speaks a number of European languages including German, Spanish, French, Romanian, and Greek and travels widely throughout Europe. In the early 1970s he lives in Russia, and a collection of essays entitled Ó Rosmuc go Rostov is published in 1972. For health reasons he lives in Málaga, Spain, from the middle of the 1970s until 1987. While there, RTÉ produces a documentary on his life entitled Ó Ros Muc go Malaga.

Mac Aonghusa dies on April 9, 1991, in Portiuncula General Hospital, Ballinasloe, County Galway, and is interred in Clonmacnoise. In 1930 he marries Mairéad Ní Lupain, a nurse from Annaghvane in Connemara, and has four children, Proinsias (1933), Micheál (1937), Róisín (1939), and Máirín (1944). The couple separates in the 1940s. Proinsias follows in his father’s footsteps as a writer and journalist and becomes president of Conradh na Gaeilge and chairman of Bord na Gaeilge.

(From: “Mac Aonghusa, Criostóir” by Lesa Ní Mhunghaile, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, October 2009)


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Birth of Marina Carr, Irish Playwright

Irish playwright Marina Carr is born in Dublin on November 17, 1964. She has written almost thirty plays, including By the Bog of Cats (1998) which is revived at the Abbey Theatre in 2015.

Carr spends the majority of her childhood in Pallas Lake, County Offaly, adjacent to the town of Tullamore. Her father, Hugh Carr, is a playwright and studies music under Frederick May, while her mother, Maura Eibhlín Breathnach, is the principal of the local school and writes poetry in Irish. It is said that “there were a lot of literary rivalries.” As a child, she and her siblings build a theater in their shed.

Carr attends University College Dublin (UCD), studying English and philosophy. She graduates in 1987. In 2011, she receives an honorary degree of Doctorate of Literature from her alma mater.

Carr has held posts as writer-in-residence at the Abbey Theatre and has taught at Trinity College Dublin, Princeton University, and Villanova University. She lectures in the English department at Dublin City University in 2016. She is considered one of Ireland’s most prominent playwrights and is a member of Aosdána.

The Mai wins the Dublin Theatre Festival‘s Best New Irish Play award (1994-1995) and Portia Coughlan wins the nineteenth Susan Smith Blackburn Prize (1996-1997). Other awards include The Irish Times Playwright award 1998, the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and The American Ireland Fund Award, the Macaulay Fellowship and The Hennessy Award. Carr is named a recipient of the Windham-Campbell Literature Award, administered by the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University. The award, which includes a financial prize of $165,000 (or €155,000), is formally presented in September 2017. She is the second Irish author to receive the prize, following playwright Abbie Spallen in 2016.


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Bridget Dirrane Featured in the Guinness Book of Records at Age 104

Bridget Dirrane, who was imprisoned with Kevin Barry and who canvassed for John F. Kennedy in the United States, celebrates her 104th birthday on November 15, 1998 with news that she is to be featured in the new edition of the Guinness Book of Records. Earlier in the year, she receives a Master of Arts honorary degree from NUI Galway which makes her the oldest person in the world to be awarded a degree.

Dirrane is born in Oatquarter in the townland of Kilmurvey on Inishmore, Aran Islands, County Galway on November 15, 1894. She is the youngest child of Joseph Gillan and Maggie (née Walsh). Her father is a weaver of flannel cloth and has a small farm. She has four brothers and three sisters. Her oldest brother is a fisherman, who dies at age 21 in 1901, and her father dies before 1911. Despite this hardship, all of the children go to school, with one of her brothers becoming an Irish teacher, and later an Irish inspector. The family speaks Irish at home, but they are all bilingual with English. She is schooled at the national school in Oatquarter until the age of 14. She leaves to work in local homes, looking after children. When she writes her memoirs late in life, she claims to have met Joseph Plunkett, Éamonn Ceannt, Thomas MacDonagh, Thomas Ashe and Patrick Pearse when they visited the island, visiting a house where she looked after the children, discussing politics and plans for the Easter Rising with them. She is a republican, becoming a member of Cumann na mBan in 1918 while she is working for Fr. Matthew Ryan as a housekeeper. She is involved in drilling and assisting fugitives from the authorities. Because of their known republican sympathies, the Black and Tans raid the Gillan family homes.

Dirrane moves to Dublin in 1919 to train in Saint Ultan’s Children’s Hospital as a nurse. She is still under surveillance, being arrested alongside her employer, Claude Chavasse, when she is working as a nurse in his house. She is held in Dublin’s Bridewell Garda Station for two days before being transferred to Mountjoy Prison. In the time of her imprisonment, she is not charged or put on trial. Her refusal to speak English angers the guards, culminating in her going on hunger strike for a number of days in 1920 until she is released. She takes part in the Cumann na mBan vigil outside of Mountjoy Prison in November 1920, when Kevin Barry is hanged.

Dirrane works in Richard Mulcahy‘s house for two years, before emigrating to the United States in 1927 to continue her career as a nurse. She works in Boston where she is an active member of the Irish emigrant community alongside former neighbours from the Aran Islands and some relatives. She works in a hotel for a time, but returns to nursing after her marriage to Edward ‘Ned’ Dirrane in November 1932 in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston. Ned, a labourer in Boston and also from Inishmore, dies from heart failure in 1940. Dirrane continues her career nursing in hospitals and as a district nurse. On May 13, 1940, she naturalises as U.S. citizen. During World War II, she works as a nurse in a munitions factory, and at a U.S. Army Air Forces bomber base in Mississippi. She canvases for John F. Kennedy in the Irish community in South Boston when he runs for president in 1960. Jean Kennedy Smith visits Dirrane in 1997 in Galway to acknowledge her contribution. She also meets Senator Edward Kennedy.

Following her retirement, Dirrane lives with her nephew, but she returns to the Aran Islands in 1966 at age 72. There she lives with her brother-in-law, Pat Dirrane, a widower with three grown sons. They marry in a private ceremony on April 27, 1966. She continues to live on the island after Pat’s death on February 28, 1990, living with her stepson. She eventually moves into a nursing home in Newcastle in the suburbs of Galway. When she celebrates her 100th birthday, she funds a statue of Our Lady Mary at a holy well in Corough on Inishmore. At age 103, the matron of her nursing home arranges for a local writer, Jack Mahon, to record her memories and collate the information into a book. The book, A Woman of Aran, is published in 1997 and is a bestseller for several weeks. She is awarded an honorary degree, an MA honoris causa, from NUI Galway in May 1998, the oldest person to ever receive one.

Dirrane dies at age 109 on December 31, 2003, in Galway. She is buried on Inishmore.


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Death of Seumas O’Kelly, Journalist, Writer & Playwright

Seumas O’Kelly, journalist, fiction writer, and playwright, dies in Dublin on November 14, 1918, following a cerebral haemorrhage.

O’Kelly is born James Kelly in Mobhill, Loughrea, County Galway, youngest of seven (or possibly eight) children of Michael Kelly, corn merchant, and his wife, Catherine Fitzgerald. His date of birth is uncertain. Some commentators believe he is the James Kelly whose birth was registered on November 16, 1875, but relatives claim this was a sibling and namesake who died prematurely. His death certificate implies he was born in 1878, and family members maintained he was born in 1880.

Loughrea is at the centre of the bitterly-fought plan of campaign agitation on the Clanricarde estate from the late 1880s. Many tenants in the town and surrounding rural districts are evicted for non-payment of rent, and Lord Clanricarde resists reinstatement until the estate is purchased by special legislation shortly before World War I. According to one source, the O’Kellys are themselves evicted during the Plan of Campaign, though they seem to retain a degree of financial stability. A widespread perception that nationalist politicians had exploited the evicted tenants contributes to the relative strength of Parnellism in the area, and the early appearance of Sinn Féin. This background inspires such works as O’Kelly’s 1917 play, The Parnellite.

While growing up in Loughrea, O’Kelly is profoundly influenced by contact with older relatives and country folk from whom he learns some Irish and the folklore/storytelling tradition that shapes many of his stories. The example of his mother and friendship with the local Carmelite fathers, whom he serves as an altar boy, gives him a strong commitment to Catholicism. This coexists in his work with an Ibsenite-Parnellite insistence on individual defiance of conformity, and a gentle exaltation of the sensitive dreamer isolated from the life around him. The mixture is sometimes uneasy. His observations on domestic violence, the sexual exploitation of servant girls by hypocritically pious employers, and prejudice against children born outside marriage or raised in the workhouse are unobtrusive but biting. His play, The Bribe (1913), gives a devastating depiction of the social and economic pressures which induce a small-town shopkeeper and poor law guardian to accept a bribe to appoint an underqualified dispensary doctor, with disastrous results. The corrupt and snobbish doctor is called Power O’Connor, an unsubtle hit at the nationalist MP, T. P. O’Connor. This element of social observation distinguishes him from the more symbolist city-born Daniel Corkery, to whom he is often compared. Much of his writing is recognisably set in Loughrea.

O’Kelly begins working as a journalist on local papers, including the Midland Tribune, the Tuam News, and the Connacht Leader. He becomes editor of The Southern Star, based in Skibbereen, County Cork, in 1903, and is said to be the youngest newspaper editor in Ireland at the time. He moves to Naas, County Kildare, in 1906, as editor of the Leinster Leader. Here he lives in a house by the canal, which provides the inspiration for his linked series of short stories, The Golden Barque, along with his father, a nephew, and his brother Michael. Already a contributor to The United Irishman published by Arthur Griffith, and later its successor, Sinn Féin, he is active in the Naas Sinn Féin club and makes regular weekend visits to Dublin, where Griffith introduces him to Dublin literary circles. Here his closest friends are James Stephens, whose influence is visible in the more whimsical and fantastic elements of O’Kelly’s work, and Seumas O’Sullivan, who recalls O’Kelly as a man of remarkable gentleness and integrity.

O’Kelly’s journalistic career is accompanied by his development as a writer, publishing stories in a variety of outlets, including the Irish Rosary and the Irish Packet. From 1908 he has several plays produced by the Theatre of Ireland, a nationalist-oriented rival to the Abbey Theatre. Lustre (1913), written jointly with Casimir Markievicz, later becomes the basis for a Soviet film.

Around 1911, O’Kelly suffers a severe attack of rheumatic fever, which leaves him with a chronic heart condition and a strong sense of mortality. He continues to write extensively and with increasing skill. He becomes editor of Dublin’s The Saturday Evening Post in 1912 and moves to Dublin, where he lives in Drumcondra. At this time he is an occasional contributor to The Manchester Guardian, turning down a permanent job on that paper. He leaves the Post in 1915 because of continuing ill-health and is offered the editorship of The Sunday Freeman but has to retire after two weeks. He then returns to Naas. At this time his play Driftwood, commissioned by Annie Horniman, is produced in Manchester and London.

When O’Kelly’s brother is interned after the Easter Rising, he resumes the editorship of the Leinster Leader until his brother’s release at Christmas 1916. He also contributes topical articles to the Sunday Independent. His literary reputation continues to increase with a short story collection, Waysiders (1917), and his best-regarded full-length novel, The Lady of Deerpark (1917), a melancholy story about the last heiress of a declining Catholic gentry family. Another novel, Wet Clay (1922), is published posthumously and is the story of the tense relationship between a “returned Yank” and his small-farmer cousins, which shows deeply unresolved ambivalence about the nature and prospects of Irish rural society after the Land War.

When Griffith and many other Sinn Féin activists are arrested and imprisoned in May 1918, O’Kelly returns to Dublin to edit the Sinn Féin paper Nationality. During the days after the Armistice of November 11, 1918, a crowd of soldiers and women whose husbands are serving in the British Army attack the paper’s premises, which are also the headquarters of Sinn Féin. As a result of these attacks O’Kelly suffers a cerebral haemorrhage which leads to his death on November 14, 1918.

O’Kelly’s funeral turns into a major political demonstration and his status as a nationalist martyr leads to the posthumous publication of many of his works. These include the novella, The Weaver’s Grave (1920), generally regarded as his masterpiece. It has been reprinted regularly and translated into several languages. A 1961 Radio Éireann adaptation by Micheal Ó hAodha wins the Prix Italia. The twenty-fifth and fiftieth anniversaries of his death see various commemorations in his honour and a short-lived Seumas O’Kelly Society is founded in 1968. O’Kelly never marries but is said to have cherished a hopeless passion for the actress and nationalist activist, Máire Níc Shiubhlaigh, for whom he writes the play The Shuiler’s Child (1909).

(From: “O’Kelly, Seumas” by Patrick Maume, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, October 2009)


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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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Death of Darrell Figgis, Writer, Sinn Féin Activist & Parliamentarian

Darrell Edmund Figgis, Irish writer, Sinn Féin activist and independent parliamentarian in the Irish Free State, dies in London on October 27, 1925. The little that has been written about him has attempted to highlight how thoroughly his memory and works have been excised from Irish popular culture.

Figgis is born at Glen na Smoil, Palmerstown Park, Rathmines in Dublin, on September 17, 1882, the son of Arthur William Figges, tea merchant, and Mary Anne Deane. While still an infant, his family emigrates to Calcutta, India. There his father works as an agent in the tea business, founding A. W. Figgis & Co. They return when he is ten years of age, though his father continues to spend much of his time in India. As a young man he works in London at the tea brokerage owned by his uncle and it is at this time that he begins to develop his interest in literature and literary criticism.

In 1910 Figgis, with the help of G. K. Chesterton, who wrote the introduction to his first book of verse, joins the Dent publishing company. He moves to Achill Island in 1913 to write, learn the Irish language and gain an appreciation of Irish culture, as perceived by many of his contemporaries to uniquely exist on the western seaboard. On his detention following the 1916 Easter Rising, he and the publishing house parted company. Subsequently, he establishes his own firm in which he republishes the works of William Carleton and others.

Figgis joins the Irish Volunteers in Dublin in 1913 and organises the original Battalion of Volunteers in Achill, where he had built a house. While in London, he is contacted by The O’Rahilly, who acquaints him with the arms dealers who had supplied the Ulster Volunteers. In this way he becomes part of the London group that discusses the financing and supply of German rifles for the Volunteers. He travels with Erskine Childers, initially to Belgium and from there to Germany, to make the purchase of the army surplus Mauser rifles. He then charters the tug Gladiator, from which the arms are transferred at sea to the Childers’ yacht Asgard and Conor O’Brien‘s Kelpie.

At this time the Royal Navy is patrolling the Irish Sea in anticipation of imminent war with Germany, and Figgis is tasked with taking a motor boat to Lambay Island to signal to the Asgard the all-clear. By his own account, he is unable to persuade the skipper of the pilot vessel to put to sea as one of the worst storms in many years is raging. Due to luck and the skill of the crews, the three over-laden yachts arrive at their destinations. Figgis, accompanied by Seán McGarry, watch Asgard helplessly from Howth pier until Erskine decides to take a calculated risk and sails into the harbour. Against the odds, the conspiracy to buy rifles in Germany and land them safely in Ireland has succeeded. A large party of Volunteers, on their way to Dublin with rifles and ammunition is confronted by a detachment of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and Dublin Metropolitan Police. With their route blocked, Figgis and Thomas MacDonagh engage the officers in an attempt to distract them.

Although Figgis does not participate in the 1916 Easter Rising, he is arrested and interned by the British authorities between 1916 and 1917 in Reading Gaol. After his release, he returns to Ireland. At the 1917 Sinn Féin Ardfheis he and Austin Stack are elected Honorary Secretaries of the party. The conference sees Éamon de Valera replace Arthur Griffith as President of the party. Shortly after, Figgis is one of four recently released internees who travels to the South Longford constituency to campaign for Joseph McGuinness in the by-election caused by the death of John Phillips. The overwhelming victory of the Sinn Féin candidate over the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) nominee marks the beginning of the eclipse of the latter party by the former party. In May 1918, Figgis is arrested for his alleged part in the spurious German Plot a second time and again deported to England. In 1918, he becomes editor of the newspaper The Republic.

From September 1919 to 1921 Figgis heads the Commission of Inquiry into the Resources and Industries of Ireland. At this time a serious rift between Figgis and Michael Collins, then Minister for Finance, becomes a matter of public record. This close attention of Collins will pursue Figgis in his later activities on the Constitution Committee. While he is participating in a Dáil Court at Carrick-on-Shannon, the proceedings are interrupted by a British Army raid. An officer named Captain Cyril Crawford summarily condemns Figgis and Peadar Kearney to be hanged. He orders rope for the purpose, but another officer intervenes and Keaney and Figgis are set free.

Figgis supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He is extremely critical of the Collins/De Valera Pact for the June 1922 Irish general election which is an attempt to avoid a split in the Sinn Féin party and, more importantly, in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). On May 25, 1922 he attends a meeting of the executive council of the Farmers’ Union and representatives, of business interests, and encourages them to put forward candidates in constituencies where anti-Treaty candidates might otherwise head the poll. As he is a member of the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle National Executive at the time, he is expelled from the party.

Soon after the signing of the Treaty, the necessity of quickly drafting a constitution for the proposed Free State becomes apparent. It is intended by Arthur Griffith that Figgis will chair the Constitution Committee, but this proposal is vetoed by Collins who nominates himself for the position specifically to minimise Figgis’ influence. The animosity between Collins and Figgis remained an undercurrent of the project. In the end, Collins decides the job should go to Captain David Robinson but this did nothing to heal rift between Figgis and James G. Douglas.

In the 1922 and 1923 Irish general elections Figgis runs and is elected an independent Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin County constituency. While still a TD, he stands in the 1925 Seanad election to Seanad Éireann, where he polls only 512 first preferences.

In December 1923, it is decided that a committee be established to investigate the means by which a public radio broadcasting service should be operated in the Free State. A central issue of contention is whether the service should be run and controlled directly by the State or operated commercially by an Irish Broadcasting Company. The latter option, it is suggested, would follow the model adopted in the UK by the establishment of the BBC. Figgis is co-opted onto the committee, and this decision leads to a series of allegations resulting in the new State’s first corruption scandal of which Figgis himself is the focus. The allegations result in his resignation from the Broadcasting committee and the launching of a second enquiry. He strenuously denies any impropriety.

On November 18, 1924, Figgis’s wife Millie commits suicide in the back of a taxi in Rathfarnham using a Webley revolver given to them by Collins following the 1922 assault. A year later, his new love, a 21-year-old Catholic woman named Rita North, dies due to complications when a doctor tries to surgically remove an already dead child. The court, after investigating her death, determines that she died due to peritonitis, an inflammation in the lining of the abdominal cavity. The public, however, jumps to the conclusion that she died in a failed illegal abortion.

Figgis himself commits suicide in a London boarding house in Granville Street on October 27, 1925, just a week after giving evidence at North’s inquest. He had been staying at the Royal Automobile Club until the day before his death, as is usual when he visits London. A small group of mourners comprising close family and friends attend his interment at the Hampstead Cemetery in West Hampstead, London.

The by-election caused by his death is won by William Norton of the Labour Party.