The IRB is a small, secret, revolutionary body whose sole object is to “establish and maintain a free and independent Republican Government in Ireland.” Stephens is a Young Irelander and is a lieutenant to William Smith O’Brien at the Battle of Widow McCormack’s Cabbage Patch in Ballingary, County Tipperary, in August 1848. He is wounded three times and is smuggled onto a ship to England and then to France, where he spends the next eight years. Upon his return to Dublin in 1856, he determines to organise a revolutionary movement and that leads to the founding of the IRB.
The IRB becomes known as the Fenian movement in the 1850s and 1860s and is committed to the use of force to establish an independent Irish republic. After organising an abortive rising in March 1867, it suffers deep internal divisions over its leadership and strategy in both the United States and Ireland—whether it is best to strike at England, in Ireland or in Canada. The issue is resolved after a series of failed interventions in Canada in 1866, 1867 and 1871, and after bombings in England that do not lead Ireland closer to independence. The IRB is unable to exploit the weaknesses and divisions in the constitutional movement following Charles Stewart Parnell’s divorce scandal (1890–91).
The IRB is eventually rejuvenated in Ireland about 1907, led by Bulmer Hobson and Tom Clarke, thus preparing the way for all that follows.The governing body is the Supreme Council. Before 1916 this consists of eleven members, and after the 1917 reorganisation it contains fifteen members. When not in session, all powers of the Supreme Council, except for declaring war, devolve onto an executive of three: the president, secretary and treasurer.
The constitution provides for the establishment of a military council, subordinate to the Supreme Council. The seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic constitute the entire military council at the time. The constitution is dedicated to the use of force against England at any favourable opportunity, but this is to be a democratic decision: “The IRB shall await the decision of the Irish Nation as expressed by a majority of the Irish people as to the fit hour of inaugurating a war against England and shall, pending such an emergency, lend its support to every movement calculated to advance the cause of Irish independence, consistent with the preservation of its own integrity,” a clause adopted in 1873 in response to the controversies arising from the 1867 Fenian Rising.
The IRB plans the 1916 Easter Rising but the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army make it possible. The establishment of the Irish Volunteers gives the IRB the great opportunity to train and equip its members as a military body for the purpose of securing independence for Ireland by force of arms and securing the cooperation of all Irish military bodies in the accomplishment of its objectives. Numerically the IRB probably never exceeds 2,000 members, but they are all extremely loyal and well trained, and there is very tight security. The executions of 1916 just about wipe out the Supreme Council, and after the prisoners are released, the IRB has to reconstitute itself.
Following the Easter Rising some republicans—notably Éamon de Valera and Cathal Brugha—leave the organization, which they view as no longer necessary, since the Irish Volunteers now perform its function. The IRB, during the Irish War of Independence (1919-21), is under the control of Michael Collins, who is secretary, and subsequently president, of the Supreme Council. Volunteers such as Séumas Robinson say afterwards that the IRB by then is “moribund where not already dead,” but there is evidence that it is an important force during the war.
When the Anglo-Irish Treaty is signed on December 6, 1921, it is debated by the Supreme Council, which votes to accept it by eleven votes to four. Those on the Supreme Council who oppose the Treaty include former leader Harry Boland, Austin Stack and Liam Lynch. Anti-Treaty republicans like Ernie O’Malley, who fought during the Irish Civil War against the Treaty, sees the IRB as being used to undermine the Irish Republic. The IRB becomes quiescent during the Irish Civil War, which ends in May 1923, but it emerges again later that year as a faction within the National Army that supports Minister for Defence Richard Mulcahy against the “Old IRA,” which fought against the recruitment of ex-British Army personnel and the demobilization of old IRA men. This comes to a head with the Irish Army Mutiny of 1924, in the wake of which Mulcahy resigns and other IRB members of the army are dismissed by acting President of the Executive CouncilKevin O’Higgins. The IRB subsequently dissolves itself, although it is not known whether a formal decision is taken, or it simply ceases to function.
“I have the honour to inform you that the Government of the Irish Republic, having as its first duty towards its people the establishment and maintenance of peace and order here, demand the withdrawal of all British armed forces stationed in Ireland. The occupation of our territory by troops of another nation and the persistent subvention here of activities directly against the expressed national will and in the interests of a foreign power, prevent the expansion and development of our institution in consonance with our social needs and purposes, and must cease.”
“The Government of the Irish Republic believe that a period of four days is sufficient notice for your Government to signify its intentions in the matter of the military evacuation and for the issue of your Declaration of Abdication in respect of our country. Our Government reserves the right of appropriate action without further notice if upon the expiration of this period of grace, these conditions remain unfulfilled.”
~ General Headquarters, Dublin, January 12th, 1939, to His Excellency the Rt. Hon. Viscount Halifax, C.G.B.
This proclamation also calls upon Irishmen both at home and “in Exile” to give their utmost support to compel the withdrawal of the British from the island of Ireland so that a free Irish Republic can be established. As the campaign begins in Britain the same proclamation appears posted around Irish communities in British cities. The proclamation references the December 17, 1938 statement by the group naming itself the “Executive Council of Dáil Éireann, Government of the Republic” and reads:
“On the twenty-third day of April in the year 1916 in the City of Dublin, seven men, who were representative in spirit and outlook and purpose of the Irish Nation that had never yielded to nor accepted the British conquest, set their humble and almost unknown names to the foregoing document that has passed into history, making the names of the seven signatories immortal. These signatures were sealed with the blood of the immortal seven, and of many others who followed them into one of the most gallant fights in the history of the world; and the Irish Nation rose from shame to honour, from humiliation to pride, from slavery to freedom….”
“Unfortunately, because men were foolish enough to treat with an armed enemy within their gates, the English won the peace. Weakness and treachery caused a resumption of the war and the old English tactics of ‘divide and conquer’ were exploited to the fullest extent. Partition was introduced, the country divided into two parts with two separate Parliaments subject to and controlled by the British Government. The armed forces of England still occupy six of our counties in the North and reserve the right ‘in time of war or strained relations’ to reoccupy the ports which they have just evacuated in the southern part of Ireland. Ireland is still tied, as she has been for centuries past, to take part in England’s wars. In the Six Counties, a large number of Republican soldiers are held prisoners by England. Further weakness on the part of some of our people, broken faith and make-believe, have postponed the enthronement of the living Republic, but the proclamation of Easter Week and the declaration of independence stand and must stand for ever. No man, no matter how far he has fallen away from his national faith, has dared to repudiate them. They constitute the rallying centre for the unbought manhood of Ireland in the fight that must be made to make them effective and to redeem the nation’s self-respect that was abandoned by a section of our people in 1923.”
“The time has come to make that fight. There is no need to redeclare the Republic of Ireland, now or in the future. There is no need to reaffirm the declaration of Irish independence. But the hour has come for the supreme effort to make both effective. So in the name of the unconquered dead and the faithful living, we pledge ourselves to that task. We call upon England to withdraw her armed forces, her civilian officials and institutions, and representatives of all kinds from every part of Ireland as an essential preliminary to arrangements for peace and friendship between the two countries; and we call upon the people of all Ireland, at home and in exile, to assist us in the effort we, are about to make, in God’s name, to compel that evacuation and to enthrone the Republic of Ireland.”
Significantly, there is an IRA bomb incident in or around a major British city almost every other day in the first nine months of 1939. During the campaign there are 300 explosions, 10 deaths and 96 injuries.
(From: “IRA Army Council Declare War on England and the Sabotage Campaign (S-Plan) Begins a Day Later,” Stair na hÉireann, https://stairnaheireann.net | Pictured: The aftermath of an IRA bike bomb in Coventry on August 25, 1939)
O’Connor is educated in St. Mary’s College, Dublin, and then in Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare, a public school run by the Jesuit order. It is also attended by the man who later condemns O’Connor to death, his close friend Kevin O’Higgins. He studies experimental physics, logic, and metaphysics. He also attends the College of Science, Merrion Street. He takes a BA (1906) and receives a B.Eng (1911). In 1910, he takes his Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Arts degrees at University College Dublin (UCD), then known as the National University. Prominent in the university’s Literary and Historical Society, he advocates militant constitutional nationalism as one of the many society members active in the Young Ireland branch of the United Irish League.
During the subsequent Irish War of Independence (1919-21) O’Connor is Director of Engineering of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a military organisation descended from the Irish Volunteers. The specialist skills of engineering and signaling are essential to the development of the 5th Battalion, Dublin Brigade. Its men are forbidden frontline duty as their contribution is regarded as vital, their number too small. But units only expand on an incremental local basis, disappointing General Richard Mulcahy.
O’Connor is also involved in the Republican breakout from Strangeways Prison in Manchester, England, on October 25, 1919. Michael Collins takes a particular interest in the escape, and actually visits Austin Stack in the prison under a false name to finalise the arrangements. IRA men hold up traffic while a ladder is propped up against the outside of a prison wall. In all six prisoners escape, among them Piaras Beaslaí.
On January 10, a meeting is held at O’Connor’s home in Monkstown, Dublin. In attendance are all senior anti-Treaty IRA officers except Liam Mellows. O’Connor is appointed to chair this grouping, known as the Republican Military Council. It is agreed that an IRA convention should be called without delay; failing this, a separate GHQ will be formed. At a further meeting in O’Connor’s office on March 20, a temporary IRA GHQ staff is elected under Liam Lynch as chief of staff. O’Connor remains in charge of engineering.
On March 26, 1922, the anti-Treaty officers of the IRA hold a convention in Dublin, in which they reject the Treaty and repudiate the authority of the Dáil. However, they are prepared to discuss a way forward. The convention meets again on April 9. It creates a new army constitution and places the army under a newly elected executive of 16 men, including O’Connor, that are to choose an army council and headquarters staff. Asked by a journalist if this development means the anti-Treatyites ware proposing a “military dictatorship” in Ireland, O’Connor replies, “You can take it that way if you want.”
On April 14, 1922, O’Connor is one of a number of IRA leaders in a 200-strong force that occupies the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the Provisional Government. They intend to provoke the British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them, which they believe will restart the war with Britain and re-unite the IRA against their common enemy. They also occupy other smaller buildings regarded as being associated with the former British administration, such as the Ballast Office and the Freemasons‘ Hall in Molesworth Street, but the Four Courts remains the focus of interest. On June 15, O’Connor sends out men to collect the rifles that belong to the mutineers of the Civic Guards.
Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade the IRA men to leave the Four Courts. At the Third IRA Convention on June 18, the Executive is split over whether the Irish Government should demand that all British troops leave within 72 hours. A motion to this effect, opposed by Lynch, is narrowly defeated, whereupon O’Connor and others leave the meeting to set up a separate GHQ. The IRA effectively splits into two factions opposed to the government.
On June 22, 1922, Sir Henry Wilson is assassinated in London by two IRA men, Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, each a former British soldier. Some now argue that this was done on the orders of Michael Collins, who had been a close friend of Dunne’s in the London Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). Prime MinisterDavid Lloyd George writes an angry letter to Collins, which includes the line “…still less can Mr. Rory O’Connor be permitted to remain his followers and his arsenal in open rebellion in the heart of Dublin… organizing and sending out from this centre enterprises of murder not only in the area of your Government…”
On June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison has kidnapped J. J. “Ginger” O’Connell, a general in the National Army, Collins gives orders for the shelling of the Four Courts with borrowed artillery lent by Winston Churchill. The shelling leads to the Four Courts catching fire, damaging parts of the building in addition to destroying numerous government documents. O’Connor is one of 130 men that surrender on June 30, some of whom are arrested and imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison. This incident marks the official start of the Irish Civil War, as fighting breaks out openly around the country between pro- and anti-Treaty factions.
On December 8, 1922, along with three other republicans, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, captured with the fall of the Four Courts, O’Connor is executed by firing squad in reprisal for the anti-Treaty IRA’s killing of Free State Teachta Dála (TD) Sean Hales. The execution order is signed by Kevin O’Higgins. O’Connor had been best man at O’Higgins’s wedding on October 27, 1921. Their deaths remain a symbol of the bitterness and division of the Irish Civil War. O’Connor, one of 77 republicans executed by the Provisional Government, is seen as a martyr by the Republican movement in Ireland.
Neeson and Richardson win £50,000 ($85,370) in libel damages over newspaper allegations that their marriage is on the rocks. The couple sues the Daily Mirror publishers MGN for libel and malicious falsehood after the tabloid paper claimed Natasha Richardson was filing for divorce behind her husband’s back and that their marriage was a sham.
The story is published in August 1998 in London, Scotland, the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland – where Neeson was born and where his family still live.
A High Court judge in London hears that the actors – married for four years with two young sons – were shocked by the allegations which caused “an explosion of publicity worldwide.”
Neeson, who is nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the film Schindler’s List, is told about the article by his mother. She phones him in great distress from Northern Ireland after seeing the headlines while out shopping.
The actors’ solicitor, Mark Thomson, tells Mr. Justice Gray that the couple then spent several days attempting to deal with the destructive aftermath of the articles denying the allegations to friends and family.
Mirror Group Newspapers accepts “unequivocally” that the story is entirely false and apologises for the embarrassment, hurt and distress caused to the couple. “We entirely accept that there is absolutely no truth in the allegations about Mr. Neeson and Miss Richardson and that the allegations should never have been published. We apologise unreservedly to Mr. and Mrs. Neeson and their family for the distress and embarrassment they have been caused. We have agreed not to repeat the allegations and to pay substantial damages to them, which they are donating to the victims of the Omagh bombing.”
The information came from a source thought to be reliable, but it was clearly a mistake for the reporter to rely on that source, says solicitor Martin Cruddace.
The Second Dáil responds favourably to the proposal from King George V on June 22, 1921 for a truce, which becomes effective from noon on July 11, 1921. This is upheld by nearly all of the combatants while the months-long process of arranging a treaty gets under way. The Truce allows the Dáil to meet openly without fear of arrest for the first time since September 1919, when it had been banned and driven underground.
On September 14, 1921, the Dáil ratifies the appointment of Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Robert Barton, Eamonn Duggan and George Gavan Duffy as envoys plenipotentiary for the peace conference in England. These envoys eventually sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty on December 6. The debate on the Treaty starts on December 14, and continues until January 7, 1922. On that date, the Dáil approves the treaty by 64 in favour to 57 against. As the leader of the anti-Treaty minority, de Valera resigns as President. He allows himself to be nominated again, but is defeated on a vote of 60–58. He is succeeded as president by Arthur Griffith. The anti-Treaty deputies continue to attend the Dáil, with de Valera becoming the first Leader of the Opposition in the Dáil.
The ratification specified by the Treaty is by “a meeting summoned for the purpose of the members elected to sit in the House of Commons of Southern Ireland.” The Dáil vote does not fulfil this because four unionists are absent and one Northern Ireland member is present. The requisite approval comes at a separate meeting on January 14, 1922, attended by the unionists and boycotted by anti-Treaty TDs. The meeting also approves a Provisional Government led by Collins, which runs in parallel to Griffith’s Dáil government and with overlapping membership. The Government of Ireland Act 1920 requires the Commons to be summoned by the Lord Lieutenant and its members to take an oath of allegiance to the king, whereas the meeting on January 14 is summoned by Griffith and the members present do not take an oath.
After his highly-publicised American debut at New York’s Waldorf Astoria, the self-styled “President of the Irish Republic” embarks on the first leg of what is to be an eighteen month tour of the United States. The purpose of his mission is twofold: to gain formal recognition of the Irish Republic and to raise funds via a bond issue to support the independence movement and the newly established Dáil Éireann.
Between July and August 1919, de Valera and his entourage travel over 6,000 miles from New York to San Francisco, addressing enormous crowds at dozens of venues. He fills Madison Square Garden to capacity and receives a thirty-minute standing ovation from 25,000 people in Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Twice as many people fill Boston’s Fenway Park on June 29, cheering the arrival of the “Irish Lincoln.” The Sinn Féin envoys also visit less obvious Irish communities of the period, such as Scranton, Savannah, New Orleans and Kansas City. For de Valera’s personal secretary, Seán Nunan, the public meeting in Butte, Montana is like “an election meeting at home – there were so many first-generation Irishmen working on the mines – mainly from around Allihies in West Cork.” In San Francisco de Valera dedicates a statue of Robert Emmet by Irish-born sculptor Jerome Connor in Golden Gate Park, a replica of which stands sentinel in St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin. This is one of many symbolic gestures linking the American and Irish struggles for independence played out before the flashing bulbs of the ubiquitous press photographers. On August 15 The Cork Examiner notes that the enthusiastic American exchanges “indicate that few public missionaries from other lands – possibly only Mr. Parnell – have ever had such receptions as were accorded to the Sinn Féin leader.”
De Valera’s team deserves credit for the incredible logistical triumph that is the U.S. tour. As chief organiser, Liam Mellows travels ahead to each city, ensuring a suitable reception is prepared and a venue secured for a mass meeting. Seán Nunan is de Valera’s fastidious personal secretary and Harry Boland, Sinn Féin TD for South Roscommon and Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) envoy, is at his side troubleshooting, speechmaking and shaking hands. As the tour progresses, de Valera’s supporting cast expands to include, Kerry-born Kathleen O’Connell who becomes de Valera’s full-time personal secretary from 1919.
The next stage of de Valera’s American odyssey begins on October 1, 1919 in Philadelphia, a city with a rich Irish heritage and rife with symbolism of America’s struggle for independence. Over the next three weeks, de Valera and his team travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific seaboard and back again, delivering seventeen major public speeches and a host of smaller ones to aggregate crowds of over half a million.
The pace is relentless as the Irish team makes its way through middle America. De Valera is received as a visiting dignitary at multiple state legislatures and presented with honorary degrees from six American universities. In line with his secondary objective to foster the interest of “wealthy men of the race in the industrial development of Ireland,” he addresses the Chambers of Commerce in a number of cities and arranges a personal meeting with Henry Ford, the son of an Irish emigrant, during his visit to Detroit in October. In the same month in Wisconsin, he is made a Chief of the Chippewa Nation, an honour he later says meant more to him than all the freedoms of all the cites he was ever given. It is not surprising that by the time they reach Denver on October 30, The Irish World reports that “the President looked tired.” Still, he musters the energy to make high profile visits to Portland, Los Angeles and San Diego before beginning the return journey to New York at the end of November.
It is not all plain sailing for the Sinn Féin representatives in America. The tour of the west coast in late 1919 sees increasing tensions with American patriotic bodies who are critical of de Valera’s perceived pro-German stance during World War I. He is heckled during a speech in Seattle and a tricolour is ripped from his car in Portland by members of the American Legion. The trip through the southern states in the spring of 1920 coincides with rising American anti-immigration and anti-Catholic nativism. A small number of counter demonstrations are organised by right-wing Americans. Most notably, members of the Ku Klux Klan make unwelcome appearances at several rallies in the American south, making clear their opposition to de Valera’s presence.
The Irish envoys also contend with antagonism from the leaders of Friends of Irish Freedom (FOIF), the broad-based popular front of Clan na Gael headed by veteran FenianJohn Devoy and Judge Daniel Cohalan. The FOIF uses its significant resources to finance de Valera’s tour and facilitate the Bond Certificate Drive, but behind the scenes there are significant personality clashes and tensions over tactics.
The increasingly public dispute comes to a head in a row over strategies at the Republican National Convention in Chicago in June 1920. Drawing on his influential political contacts, Cohalan persuades the Republican Party to include Irish self-determination in their election platform. However, much to Cohalan’s fury, de Valera leads a separate delegation to the Convention and insists on a resolution calling for recognition of the Irish Republic. The result is that two resolutions are submitted to the Platform Committee, which indicates dissension in the Irish ranks and gives the Committee the excuse to include neither in the final platform. After de Valera also fails to secure the endorsement of the Democratic convention in San Francisco in June, it is clear that the Irish question will not be a significant factor in the ensuing presidential election. Relations between the FOIF and de Valera reach a new low. In November 1920, de Valera makes the final break with the FOIF and sets up a new organisation, the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic.
De Valera is in Washington, D.C. on October 25 when Terence MacSwiney dies after 74 days on hunger strike. Six days later, at the last great meeting of the American tour, 40,000 people fill New York’s Polo Grounds to commemorate MacSwiney’s death. By late November, de Valera knows that it is time to return to Ireland. Smuggled aboard SS Celtic in New York harbour on December 10, he prepares for the nine-day journey home. He had failed to obtain the recognition of the United States Government for the Republic, but his cross-continental tour and associated press coverage raised international awareness and over $5 million for the Irish cause.
(From: An article by Helene O’Keeffe that was first published in the Irish Examiner on March 24, 2020 | Photo: Eamon de Valera, center, president of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, in Butte, Montana, in 1919 to encourage support for Ireland’s fight for independence. Courtesy of Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives)
The Irish Citizen Army also becomes involved in the battle, supporting the anti-Treaty IRA in the O’Connell Street area. The fighting begins with an assault by Provisional Government forces on the Four Courts building, and ends in a decisive victory for the Provisional Government.
On April 14, 1922 about 200 Anti-Treaty IRA militants, with Rory O’Connor as their spokesman, occupy the Four Courts in Dublin, resulting in a tense stand-off. They want to spark a new armed confrontation with the British, which they hope will bring down the Anglo-Irish Treaty, unite the two factions of the IRA against their former common enemy and restart the fight to create an all-Ireland Irish Republic. At the time the British Army still has thousands of soldiers concentrated in Dublin, awaiting evacuation.
Winston Churchill and the British cabinet have been applying pressure on the Provisional Government to dislodge the rebels in the Four Courts, as they consider their presence a violation of the Treaty. Such pressure falls heaviest on Michael Collins, President of the Provisional Government Cabinet and effective head of the regular National Army. Collins, a chief IRA strategist during the War of Independence from Britain, has resisted giving open battle to the anti-Treaty militants since they occupied Four Courts in April. His colleagues in the Provisional Government Cabinet, including Arthur Griffith, agree that Collins must mount decisive military action against them.
In June 1922 the Provisional Government engages in intense negotiations with the British Cabinet over a draft Constitution that seeks to avert the impending civil war. They particularly seek to remove the requirement of an oath to the British Crown by all members of the Dublin government, a key point of contention with anti-Treaty partisans. However, the conservative British Cabinet refuses to cooperate. The pro-treaty element of Sinn Féin wins the elections on June 16.
Following the assassination of Sir Henry Wilson in London on June 22, 1922 and the arrest by Four Courts troops of National Army Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. J. J. “Ginger” O’Connell, British pressure on the Provisional Government intensifies. The British now threaten to invade and re-occupy all of Ireland. On June 27 the Provisional Government Cabinet agrees on an ultimatum to the Four Courts garrison to evacuate or face immediate military action.
Churchill offers a loan of British artillery for use by the National Army, along with 200 shells from their store of 10,000 at Kilmainham, three miles away. It is possible that some British special troops are also covertly loaned. Two 18-pounder field guns are placed on Bridge Street and Winetavern Street, across the River Liffey from the Four Courts complex. After an ultimatum is delivered to the anti-Treaty garrison in the early hours of June 28, the National Army commences the bombardment of Four Courts.
No authoritative record exists regarding the order to commence bombardment. Historians tend to attribute the order to Collins, but some biographers dispute this. Anti-Treaty survivors allege that they are preparing for an 8:00 a.m. evacuation when the bombardment begins at 4:00 a.m.
Inside the building are 12 members of the Irish Republican Army Executive, including Chief of StaffJoe McKelvey, Director of Engineering Rory O’Connor, Quartermaster General Liam Mellows and Director of Operations Ernie O’Malley. The garrison consists of roughly 180 men drawn from the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the IRA’s 1st Dublin Brigade, commanded by Commandant Paddy O’Brien, armed for the most part only with small arms apart from one captured armoured car, which they name “The Mutineer.” The members of the IRA Army Executive are the political leaders of the garrison, but serve as common soldiers under the command of O’Brien. The Anti-Treaty side fortifies the Four Courts to some extent, planting mines around the complex and barricading the doors and windows, but their leadership orders them not to fire first, in order to retain the moral high ground, and so the Free State troops are allowed to surround the Four Courts.
After the first day’s bombardment proves ineffective, the British give the Free State two more 18-pounder cannon and proffer 60-pounder howitzers along with an offer to bomb the Four Courts from the air. Collins turns down the latter two offers because of the risk of causing heavy civilian casualties. On June 29, Free State troops storm the eastern wing of the Four Courts, losing three killed and 14 wounded and taking 33 prisoners. The republicans’ armoured car is disabled and abandoned by its crew. Early the next day O’Brien is injured by shrapnel and O’Malley takes over military command in the Four Courts. By this time the shelling has caused the Four Courts to catch fire. In addition, orders arrive from Oscar Traynor, the anti-treaty IRA commander in Dublin, for the Four Courts garrison to surrender, as he cannot reach their position to help them. O’Malley rules this order invalid, as the Four Courts is a GHQ operation. However, in view of the rapidly deteriorating situation, at 3:30 p.m. on June 30, O’Malley surrenders the Four Courts to Brigadier GeneralPaddy Daly of the Free State’s Dublin Guard unit. Three of the republican garrison die in the siege.
Several hours before the surrender, the Public Record Office of Ireland (PRO) block located in the western block of the Four Courts, which is used as an ammunition store by the Four Courts garrison, is the centre of a huge explosion, destroying Irish state records going back to the Anglo-Norman conquest. Forty advancing Free State troops are badly injured. Assigning blame for the explosion remains controversial. It is alleged by the National Army Headquarters that the Anti-treaty forces deliberately booby-trapped the PRO to kill advancing Free State troops. Tim Healy, a government supporter, later claims that the explosion is the result of land mines laid before the surrender, which explode after the surrender. However, a study of the battle concludes that the explosion is caused by fires ignited by the shelling of the Four Courts, which eventually reach two truckloads of gelignite in the munitions factory. A towering mushroom cloud rises 200 feet over the Four Courts.
At this stage in the battle troops on each side still have a sense of kinship with the other, as most of them had fought together in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence. By appealing to friends on the Free State side, several anti-Treaty leaders among the Four Courts garrison, notably Ernie O’Malley and Seán Lemass, escape from captivity to continue the fight.
Despite the Free State force’s success in taking the Four Courts, fighting continues in Dublin until July 5. On June 29 anti-Treaty IRA units from the Dublin Brigade led by Oscar Traynor have occupied O’Connell Street, part of Parnell Square, York Street and some of other locations to try to distract Free State attention from their attack on the Four Courts. Not all the IRA units in the capital are prepared to fight against the new Irish government, however, and their numbers are probably about 500 throughout the city. Their numbers are supplemented by about 150 Citizen Army men and women who bring with them arms and ammunition dumped since the insurrection of Easter 1916.
The republicans occupy the northeastern part of O’Connell Street, with their strong point at “the block,” a group of buildings that the Anti-Treatyites had connected by tunneling through the walls. They had also taken over the adjoining Gresham, Crown, Granville and Hammam hotels. Their only position on the western side of the street is in the YMCA building. Additionally, they have an outpost south of the River Liffey at the Swan Pub on Aungier Street. Oscar Traynor apparently hopes to receive reinforcements from the rest of the country, but only Anti-Treaty units in Belfast and Tipperary reply and both of them arrive too late to take part in the fighting.
The Provisional Government troops, commanded by General Tom Ennis, start by clearing out the outlying anti-treaty garrisons, which is accomplished by July 1. They then draw a tighter cordon around O’Connell Street. Artillery is used to drive the Anti-Treaty fighters out of positions on Parnell Street and Gardiner Street, which gives the Free State troops a clear field of fire down O’Connell Street.
The republican outpost in the YMCA is eliminated when Free State troops tunnel underneath it and detonate a bomb. Traynor’s men in “the block” hold out until artillery is brought up, under the cover of armored cars, to bombard them at point-blank range. Incendiary bombs are also planted in the buildings. Traynor and most of his force make their escape when the buildings they are occupying catch fire. They mingle with civilian crowds and make their way to Blessington.
Left behind is Republican leader Cathal Brugha and a rear guard of 15 men, who stay behind in the Hammam Hotel after Traynor and most other IRA men have left. At 5:00 p.m. on July 5, when the fires make the hotel untenable, Brugha orderes his men to surrender. He, however, stays behind, only to emerge from the building alone, armed with a revolver. He is shot in the thigh by Free State troops and dies later from blood loss. There are some further sporadic incidents of fighting around the city as Free State troops disperse anti-treaty IRA groups.
Cathal Brugha is the last casualty in the Battle of Dublin, which costs the lives of at least 80 people (15 anti-Treaty IRA Volunteers, 29 National Army soldiers, one British Royal Air Force serviceman and 35 civilians) and over 280 wounded. In addition, the Free State takes over 450 Republican prisoners. The high civilian casualties are doubtless the result of the use of heavy weapons, especially artillery, in a densely populated urban area.
When the fighting in Dublin dies down, the Free State government is left firmly in control of the Irish capital and the anti-treaty forces disperse around the country. Round-ups after the fighting result in more Republican prisoners and the death of prominent anti-Treaty activist Harry Boland who is shot dead in Skerries, Dublin, on July 31.
Oscar Traynor, Ernie O’Malley and the other anti-Treaty fighters who escape the fighting in Dublin regroup in Blessington, around 30 km southwest of the city. An anti-Treaty IRA force from County Tipperary had arrived there but too late to participate in the Dublin fighting. Instead, this force heads south and takes a string of towns, including Enniscorthy and Carlow, but quickly abandons them when faced with superior Free State forces. Most of the Republicans then retreat further south to the so-called Munster Republic, territory southwest of a line running from Limerick to Waterford. This in turn is taken by the Free State in an offensive from July to August 1922.
Four of the Republican leaders captured in the Four Courts, Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Joe McKelvey and Richard Barrett, are later executed by the government in reprisal for the Anti-Treaty side’s killing of TDSeán Hales. The street where Cathal Brugha is killed is later renamed Cathal Brugha Street in his honour.
Through planning and participating in raids and gunrunning episodes, Barrett comes into close contact with many GHQ staff during the Irish War of Independence, thereby ensuring his own rapid promotion. He is an active Irish Republican Army (IRA) brigade staff officer and occasionally acts as commandant of the West Cork III Brigade. He also organises fundraising activities for the purchase of weapons and for comrades on the run. In July 1920, following the arrest of the Cork III Brigade commander Tom Hales and quartermaster Pat Harte, he is appointed its quartermaster. He is arrested on March 22, 1921 and imprisoned in Cork jail, later being sent to Spike Island, County Cork.
As one of the senior officers held in Spike Island, Barrett is involved in many of the incidents that occur during his time there. After the truce is declared on July 11, 1921, some prisoners go on hunger strike but he calls it off after a number of days on instructions from outside as a decision had been made that able-bodied men are more important to the cause. In November, Barrett escapes by row boat alongside Moss (Maurice) Twomey, Henry O’Mahoney, Tom Crofts, Bill Quirke, Dick Eddy and Paddy Buckley.
Following the Irish War of Independence, Barrett supports the Anti-Treaty IRA‘s refusal to submit to the authority of Dáil Éireann (civil government of the Irish Republic declared in 1919). He is opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and calls for the total elimination of English influence in Ireland. In April 1922, under the command of Rory O’Connor, he, along with 200 other hardline anti-treaty men, take over the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the new Irish government. They want to provoke British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them. They hope this will restart the war with Britain and reunite the IRA against their common enemy. Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade O’Connor and his men to vacate the building. However, on June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison had kidnapped J. J. O’Connell, a general in the new National Army, Collins’s soldiers shell the Four Courts with British artillery to spark off what becomes known as the Battle of Dublin. O’Connor surrenders following two days of fighting, and Barrett, with most of his comrades, is arrested and held in Mountjoy Gaol. This incident marks the official outbreak of the Irish Civil War, as fighting escalates around the country between pro- and anti-treaty factions.
After the death of Michael Collins in an ambush, a period of tit-for-tat revenge killings ensues. The government implements martial law and enacts the necessary legislation to set up military courts. In November, the government begins to execute Anti-Treaty prisoners, including Erskine Childers. In response, Liam Lynch, the Anti-Treaty Chief of Staff, gives an order that any member of the Dáil who had voted for the ‘murder legislation’ is to be shot on sight.
On December 7, 1922, Teachta Dála (TD) Sean Hales is killed by anti-Treaty IRA men as he leaves the Dáil. Another TD, Pádraic Ó Máille, is also shot and badly wounded in the incident. An emergency cabinet meeting is allegedly held the next day to discuss the assassination of Hales. It is proposed that four prominent members of the Anti-Treaty side currently held as prisoners be executed as a reprisal and deterrent. The names put forward were Barrett, O’Connor, Liam Mellows and Joe McKelvey. It is alleged that the four are chosen to represent each of the four provinces – Munster, Connacht, Leinster and Ulster respectively, but none of the four is actually from Connacht. The executions are ordered by Minister for JusticeKevin O’Higgins. At 2:00 AM on the morning of December 8, 1922, Barrett is awoken along with the other three and informed that they are all to be executed at 8:00 that morning.
Ironies stack one upon the other. Barrett is a member of the same IRA brigade as Hales during the Anglo-Irish War, and they were childhood friends. O’Connor had been best man at O’Higgins’ wedding a year earlier. The rest of Sean Hales’ family remains staunchly anti-Treaty, and publicly denounces the executions. In reprisal for O’Higgins’ role in the executions, the Anti-Treaty IRA kills his father and burns his family home in Stradbally, County Laois. O’Higgins himself dies by an assassin’s hand on July 10, 1927.
The executions stun Ireland, but in terms of halting the Anti-Treaty assassination policy, they have the desired effect. The Free State government continues to execute enemy prisoners, and 77 official executions take place by the end of the war.
Barrett is now buried in his home county, Cork, following exhumation and reinternment by a later government. A monument is erected by old comrades of the West Cork Brigade, the First Southern Division, IRA, and of the Four Courts, Dublin, garrison in 1922 which is unveiled on December 13, 1952 by the TánaisteSeán Lemass.
Fermanagh County Council is formed under orders issued in accordance with the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 which comes into effect on April 18, 1899. Elections are held using proportional representation until 1922 when it is abolished in favour of first-past-the-post voting. On December 15, 1921, shortly before the partition of Ireland and transfer of power from the Dublin Castle administration, Fermanagh County Council passes a resolution on a 13–10 majority not to recognise the newly formed Parliament of Northern Ireland and pledges their allegiance to the unrecognised republicanSecond Dáil of the self-proclaimed Irish Republic in Southern Ireland before the ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The resolution states, “We, the County Council of Fermanagh, in view of the expressed desire of a large majority of people in this county, do not recognise the partition parliament in Belfast and do hereby direct our Secretary to hold no further communications with either Belfast or British Local Government Departments, and we pledge our allegiance to Dáil Éireann.” In response, the Royal Irish Constabulary evict them from their council offices and confiscate official documents. As a result, the council is temporarily dissolved. The council are replaced by Commissioners appointed by Sir Dawson Bates.
The council is reformed by the time of the 1924 Northern Ireland local elections. As a protest against the abolition of proportional representation nationalist parties boycott the election, allowing unionist parties to take control of the council uncontested. Due to the abolition of proportional representation and gerrymandering, the council always has a unionist majority of councillors elected up until abolition. In 1967, the Government of Northern Ireland passes the County Fermanagh (Transfer of Functions) Order 1967. This makes Fermanagh County Council amalgamate with the smaller Enniskillen Borough Council and the rural district councils in Enniskillen, Irvinestown and Lisnaskea to turn Fermanagh County Council into a unitary authority.
In 1969, the Fermanagh Civil Rights Association publishes a booklet criticising the council and accusing them of favouring the Protestant community over the Catholic community. Some of the accusations include that the council deliberately hires Protestants for skilled local government and school jobs and that they propose to build a new village for Catholics in a gerrymandered district that already has a Catholic majority. The council is abolished in accordance with the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 on October 1, 1973 and replaced by Fermanagh District Council.
(Pictured: Coat of arms of Fermanagh County Council, Northern Ireland)