seamus dubhghaill

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


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The North King Street Ambush

Three British soldiers are killed, the first in the city since the Easter Rising of 1916, and two more wounded in a short exchange of gunfire with an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit on the morning of September 20, 1920, at the corner North King Street and Church Street in Dublin.

Just before 11 o’clock, fifteen soldiers of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment arrive in a motor lorry at Monks’ Bakery, North King Street, to acquire a supply of bread for Collinstown aerodrome. What happens next is disputed. Soldiers involved in the incident testify later that the volunteers began the shooting, after shouting “Hands Up!” and demanding they hand over their rifles.

Two key testimonies tally. The driver of the truck, Private C. Barnes, testifies at IRA volunteer Kevin Barry‘s court martial that he had been looking under the bonnet of the vehicle when he saw a civilian carrying a pistol walk up, shout “Hands Up!,” and fire a single round into the air. Decades later, the officer commanding the IRA unit that day, Seamus Kavanagh, tells the Bureau of Military History that it was indeed one of his men, but not Barry, that had fired the first shot, perhaps due to “overanxiety.”

Kavanagh sees the soldiers in the truck immediately rise to their feet, rifles in hand. The plan has fallen apart at the first hurdle, the element of surprise is lost, and there are no guns captured that day. He says he then gives the order to open fire, and retreat from the bakery. The exchange lasts four or five minutes.

In the last seconds of the ambush, Barry is in trouble. His gun has jammed twice, and has only fired two shots. Trying to clear the second jam, he fails to realise the rest of the unit has retreated, leaving him alone. He rolls under the lorry to hide, but a woman in the crowd of onlookers points him out to the soldiers, actually out of concern that he might be run over. He is taken prisoner and brought to the nearest base, at the North Dublin Union.

One reporter who attends the scene counts 22 bullet marks on walls, doors and windows in nearby homes and shops and adds that the military lorry is also riddled with bullet holes.

The three dead soldiers are identified as 18 year-old Private Harold Washington, who is found dead at the scene, Private Marshall Whitehead and Private Thomas Humphries who both die subsequently in King George V Hospital in Stoneybatter. The two wounded are Private William Smith and Private Frank Noble, neither of whom is armed.

It is rumoured that one or two of the attackers are killed, but this is not confirmed. Several volunteers are slightly wounded, but get away. Bob Flanagan’s wound is the most serious, a bullet literally parting his scalp. One onlooker expresses disbelief that the episode did not result in further fatalities given how close the soldiers and their assailants were to each other.

One person is understood to have been arrested in connection with the incident, however, according to eyewitnesses, the civilian in question has nothing to do with the attack and is taking shelter under a dray when arrested.

(Pictured: The funeral of the soldiers killed in the North King Street ambush, Irish Life, October 1, 1920)


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Birth of Mike Quill, Irish-American Trade Unionist

Michael Joseph “Red Mike” Quill, one of the founders of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), a union founded by subway workers in New York City that expands to represent employees in other forms of transit, is born on September 18, 1905, in Gortloughera, near Kilgarvan, County Kerry.

Quill is the seventh among five sons and three daughters of John Daniel Quill, farmer, of Gortloughera, and Margaret Quill (née Lynch), of Ballyvourney, County Cork. He attends Kilgarvan national school until early adolescence. The family has strong republican sympathies and he serves with an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column during the Irish Civil War.

In 1926, Quill emigrates to New York City. After a series of brief jobs, in 1929 he secures employment with the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) as a subway station change-maker. Attracted to socialism and militant industrial unionism by his reading of James Connolly, in 1933 he is one of a small group of workers seeking to initiate a trade union independent of the IRT’s complacent company union. Comprised largely of ex-IRA men linked by membership of Clan na Gael and the leftist Irish Workers’ Clubs, his group soon joins forces with a New York transit-industry organising effort by the Communist Party, resulting in the launch in April 1934 of the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

With a convivial personality and a flair for oratory, Quill quickly emerges as one of the union’s most effective organisers. During 1935 he leaves his IRT job to work full-time as union organiser. In December 1935 he is elected TWU president, a position he holds until his death. By autumn 1936 the TWU has established a solid base on the IRT, and intensifies organisation on New York’s other transit lines: subways, buses, elevated trains, and trolleys. In May 1937 the TWU affiliates with the incipient Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). After winning, mostly by large majorities, a series of union representation elections in May–June 1937, the TWU negotiates closed-shop contracts with various New York transit companies, obtaining for its 30,000 members substantial wage increases and benefits and a work-week reduction to forty-eight hours. The ethnic profile of the TWU, which is colloquially nicknamed “the Irish union,” reflects that of New York’s transit workforce, about half of which is Irish-born.

First elected to the New York City Council in November 1937 as candidate of the American Labor Party, Quill serves on the body intermittently until 1949. After 1940 he leads the TWU into expansion outside New York, organising in mass transit in other cities, in airlines, and in railroads. Despite modest membership numbers (135,000 by the mid-1960s), the TWU is the United States‘ largest transit union, and Quill maintains a high public profile, owing to his union’s situation in a key economic sector, its base in the country’s largest city, and the colourful and the controversial features of his personality and politics. The 1940 municipal buy-out of New York’s private subway companies and subsequent evolution of a unified civically operated transport system precipitates a lengthy TWU struggle to establish collective bargaining rights and procedures for the transport workforce as public employees. This campaign, by setting precedents for public-sector union organisation nation-wide, marks Quill’s most enduring legacy to the American labour movement.

Quill denies repeated charges that he is a Communist, while retorting that he would “rather be called a Red by the rats than a rat by the Reds.” Communists hold influential positions at all levels in the TWU until the union’s December 1948 convention, when, after months of rancorous conflict over policy, he secures the expulsion from union office of all Communist Party members. His own politics, nevertheless, remain conspicuously leftist in the America of the 1950s and 1960s, as he condemns both the McCarthyite anti-Red witch-hunt and the Vietnam War. Elected a CIO vice-president in 1950, he eschews redefinition as “a labour statesman,” and advocates a national labour party and nationalisation of major industries. A strenuous opponent of racial discrimination by employers and within trade-union structures, he actively supports the black civil rights movement. He is the only top CIO official to oppose its 1955 merger with the conservative, craft-dominated American Federation of Labor (AFL), which he accuses of “the three Rs” of raiding, racketeering, and racism.

Quill’s final battle is his most dramatic. On January 1, 1966 he defies public-sector anti-strike legislation and a court injunction and leads TWU Local 100 into the first total subway-and-bus strike in New York City history, paralysing traffic for twelve days. Arrested on January 4, Quill, who has a history of serious heart disease, collapses during admission to prison and is transferred to hospital under police custody. On January 13 the strike is settled with a 15 percent wage increase, the highest of Quill’s TWU presidency. On January 28, several days after discharge from hospital, he dies of heart failure in his home. He is interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York, after a funeral Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, his casket draped by the Irish tricolor.

Speaking after his death, Martin Luther King Jr. eulogises Quill with the following: “Mike Quill was a fighter for decent things all his life—Irish independence, labor organization, and racial equality. He spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow-man. When the totality of a man’s life is consumed with enriching the lives of others, this is a man the ages will remember—this is a man who has passed on but who has not died. Negroes had desperately needed men like Mike Quill who fearlessly said what was true even when it offended. That is why Negroes shall miss Mike Quill.”

Quill marries Maria Theresa O’Neill of Cahersiveen, County Kerry, in 1937. They have one son. Maria dies in 1959. He then marries Shirley Garry (née Uzin) of Brooklyn, New York, his long-serving administrative assistant, in 1961. They have no children. The Michael J. Quill Centre at Ardtully, Kilgarvan, County Kerry, houses a commemorative museum.

(From: “Quill, Michael Joseph” by Lawrence William White, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie | Pictured: Irish-American Trade Unionist Mike Quill during a visit to the White House in 1938)


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Birth of Brendan O’Carroll, Actor, Comedian, Director & Producer

Brendan O’Carroll, Irish actor, comedian, director, producer and writer, is born in Finglas, Dublin, on September 17, 1955. He is best known for portraying foul-mouthed matriarch Agnes Brown on stage and in the BBC and RTÉ television sitcom Mrs. Brown’s Boys. In 2015, he is awarded the Irish Film and Television Academy Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to Irish television.

O’Carroll is the youngest of eleven children. His mother, Maureen, is a Labour Party TD and his father, Gerard O’Carroll, is a carpenter. His father dies in 1962 when O’Carroll is six years old, and his mother raises the eleven children with little money. He attends Saint Gabriel’s National School and leaves at the age of twelve. He has a string of occupations, including being a waiter and a milkman.

Having become well known as a comedy guest on The Late Late Show, O’Carroll releases four stand-up videos, titled How’s your Raspberry Ripple, How’s your Jolly Roger, How’s your Snowballs and How’s your Wibbly Wobbly Wonder.

O’Carroll writes the screenplay to Sparrow’s Trap, a boxing movie. The film, which has Stephen Rea cast in the lead role, runs into financing difficulties midway through the shoot when the distributor withdraws and it is abandoned. Incurring debts of over €1 million, he becomes bankrupt and the film has never been produced.

O’Carroll presents a quiz show called Hot Milk and Pepper on RTÉ One, with long-term collaborator Gerry Browne.

In 1992, O’Carroll performs a short radio play titled Mrs. Brown’s Boys and shortly afterwards he writes four books titled The Mammy, The Granny, The Chisellers and The Scrapper. In 1999, a movie named Agnes Browne, starring Anjelica Huston, is released, based on his book The Mammy. He also co-writes the screenplay. He then decides to put together his own family theatre company, Mrs. Browne’s Boys, and dresses up as a woman to play his part, as the actress he had originally hired did not show up.

From 1999 to 2009, O’Carroll writes and performs in five plays. Since 2011, the stage shows have been re-toured across the UK. In 2011, his plays are adapted into a television sitcom, with the name “Browne” shortened to “Brown.” From its beginning in 2011 through January 2022, 28 episodes have aired, across three series, several Christmas-special episodes and a one-off live episode that aired in 2016 on RTÉ One and BBC One. Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie is released on June 27, 2014, and is a significant success in the UK, staying at number one in the box office for two consecutive weeks. However, the film has negative reviews with one saying it is not just unfunny but “close to anti-funny.” O’Carroll’s wife, his sister Eilish, his son Danny, and his daughter Fiona all appear or have appeared on episodes of Mrs. Brown’s Boys.

It is announced in January 2015 that the BBC wants O’Carroll to do “other stuff,” due to the fact that Mrs. Brown’s Boys has become so successful. He reveals plans to adapt his first ever written play, patser grey, into a television sitcom.

O’Carroll is married to Doreen O’Carroll from 1977 to 1999. He marries Jennifer Gibney in 2005. They live in Davenport, Florida. He has three surviving children: Fiona, Danny, and Eric. Their first son Brendan dies of spina bifida at just a few days old. He has six grandchildren, four children from Fiona and two children from Danny.

O’Carroll’s paternal grandfather, Peter O’Carroll, a father of seven and a prominent republican, is shot dead on October 16, 1920 at his home in Manor Street, Dublin. Two of his sons are Irish Republican Army volunteers. The incident is investigated in the television series Who Do You Think You Are?

In March 2016 O’Carroll appears in the BBC Two documentary Brendan O’Carroll – My Family at War, which explores the involvement of three of his uncles — Liam, James and Peadar O’Carroll — in the Easter Rising.


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Birth of Frank Ryan, Politician, Journalist & Paramilitary Activist

Frank Ryan, politician, journalist, intelligence agent and paramilitary activist, is born in the townland of Bottomstown, Elton, County Limerick, on September 11, 1902. A fascinating, somewhat mythical figure, he lives during turbulent times when Ireland finally disposes of tyrannical British rule in Ireland and becomes an icon for socialist republicans in Europe during the 1930s and 40s.

Ryan’s parents, Vere Foster Ryan and Annie Slattery, are National School teachers at Bottomstown with a taste for Irish traditional music, and they live in a house full of books. He attends St. Colman’s College, Fermoy. From then on he is devoted to the restoration of the Irish language. He studies Celtic Studies at University College Dublin (UCD), where he is a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) training corps. He serves as a flying column member during the murderous Irish War of Independence (1919-21), thereby interrupting his studies. He leaves UCD before graduating to join the IRA’s East Limerick Brigade in 1922.

Ryan fights on the Anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War (1922-23), and is wounded and interned. In November 1923 he is released and returns to UCD. He secures his degree in Celtic Studies and further secures the editorship of An Phoblacht (The Republic), the newspaper of the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The split in the Irish independence party, Sinn Féin, results in regular fist fights between pro and anti-Treaty forces. Cumann na nGaedhael, the pro-Treaty political party in government, recruits the Army Comrades Association (Blueshirts) under former Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy to protect their members from anti-Treaty IRA protesters at annual Armistice Day and Wolfe Tone commemorations. Ryan is a forceful orator at these events and is frequently arrested and beaten up by the Gardai. The fractious politics results in Dáil members Sean Hales and Kevin O’Higgins being shot dead in public.

Ryan resigns from the IRA and founds the Republican Congress with Peadar O’Donnell and George Gilmore. Worker’s strikes unite Northern Protestant and Southern Catholic workers protesting against low wages and long hours.

The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) inspires Ryan to lead the first contingent of Irish volunteers to support the Popular Front government of Republican Spain. A brave and inspiring leader, he serves with Italian and German Republican divisions. He is seriously wounded at the Battle of Jarama in February 1937. Following recuperation in Ireland, he is appointed adjutant to republican General José Miaja. During the Aragon Offensive he is captured with 150 of his men in April 1938 and sentenced to death. Irish President, Éamon de Valera, intervenes with General Francisco Franco and Ryan’s sentence is commuted to thirty years. His health suffers severely in Burgos Prison, Spain during his two year incarceration.

Franco refuses to release Ryan because he is considered his most dangerous prisoner. In August 1940 he is transferred to Berlin, where he is re-united with IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell. An attempt to return both men to Ireland by U-boat ends with Russell dying from a perforated ulcer. Ryan voluntarily returns to Germany where he serves as the unofficial IRA ambassador for German intelligence. Irishman Francis Stuart, son-in-law of Maud Gonne, who writes some of William Joyce’s propaganda, takes good care of Ryan until his untimely death at a hospital in Loschwitz in Dresden on June 10, 1944.

Ryan’s funeral in Dresden is attended by Elizabeth Clissmann, wife of Helmut Clissmann, and Francis Stuart. Clissmann eventually forwards details of Ryan’s fate to Leopold Kerney in Madrid. According to Stuart and Clissmann, the cause of death is pleurisy and pneumonia.

In 1963, historian Enno Stephan locates Ryan’s grave in Dresden. Three volunteers of the International Brigades, Frank Edwards, Peter O’Connor and Michael O’Riordan travel to East Germany as a guard of honour to repatriate Ryan’s remains in 1979. On June 21, 1979, his remains arrive in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church, his local church when he lived in Dublin. The church is packed with all shades of Republican and left-wing opinion, as well as those from his past such as the Stuarts, the Clissmanns, Peadar O’Donnell, George Gilmore, and ex-comrades and sympathizers from all over the world. The cortège on its way to Glasnevin Cemetery halts at the GPO in memory of the dead of the 1916 Easter Rising. His coffin is borne to the grave in Glasnevin Cemetery by Irish veterans of the Spanish Civil War, Frank Edwards, Peter O’Connor, Michael O’Riordan and Terry Flanagan. Con Lehane delivers the funeral oration while a piper plays “Limerick’s Lamentation.” He is buried next to Éamonn Mac Thomáis.

Ryan leads a vicarious life in pursuit of human rights, socialism and republicanism. His life story remains more colourful than fiction.


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David Trimble & Gerry Adams Meet In Person for the First Time

Northern Ireland‘s First Minister David Trimble and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams finally come face-to-face on September 10, 1998, in an historic move aimed to bring to an end decades of mistrust between the two sides. The private meeting at Stormont is said to be an important step in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Sinn Féin says the meeting is a hugely significant move. “This is the first time in Irish history that a republican leader and a leader of unionism have sat down together in a room on their own,” says a spokesman. “This is about normalising relations between Sinn Féin and the First Minister.”

But the two men are not expected to shake hands after Trimble says Adams is still holding arms. They are likely to discuss decommissioning terrorist weapons.

The men meet briefly on Monday, September 7, in a round-table discussion of party leaders on procedural matters of the future government of the province, the Northern Ireland Assembly.

News of Trimble’s invitation to Adams breaks the previous week after the Sinn Féin President issues a firm denunciation of violence. But Trimble is adamant that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) must hand over arms before Sinn Féin can take seats in the new government. Sinn Féin has made moves in this direction by appointing strategist Martin McGuinness as an intermediary between the international arms decommissioning body and the IRA.

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement includes a power-sharing administration under British rule and an all-Ireland ministerial council to promote island-wide co-operation. London is due to hand over a large measure of home rule powers by February 1999. In the meantime a “shadow” ruling executive must up be set up and mechanisms put in place to ensure smooth implementation of all aspects of the Agreement.

Meanwhile, two rebel Ulster Unionists who ran against official candidates in the 1998 Northern Ireland Assembly election are waiting to learn if they have been expelled from the party. Party officials say it will take several days to decide the future of the two members of the new parliament, Denis Watson and Boyd Douglas, who contested the June poll on an anti-Agreement ticket.

(From: “Trimble and Adams make history,” BBC News, news.bbc.co.uk, September 10, 1998)


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IRA Cork No. 2 Brigade Arms Capture at Fermoy

The first organised action against British military forces since the 1916 Easter Rising, takes place at Fermoy, County Cork, on September 7, 1919. It is carried out by the Cork No. 2 Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) under the command of Liam Lynch. Their objective is an armed party of British soldiers who attend Sunday service at the Wesleyan Church at the eastern end of the town, the church being about half a mile from their barracks. It is not known if the rifles they carry are loaded but the assumption is that they are and plans are made for that contingency.

At around 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, September 7, 1919, fourteen soldiers and a corporal leave their barracks and march through the town towards the Wesleyan Church. They carry their rifles at the slope. Approximately twenty-five volunteers from Fermoy company, armed with just six revolvers between them, assemble in groups of two and three in the vicinity of the church, remaining well spread out to avoid attracting attention. The main attacking party of which Larry Condon is in charge, includes John Fanning Michael Fitzgerald, Patrick Ahern and James Fitzgerald. Another group is detailed to collect the rifles and transfer them to cars parked nearby, while the remainder are to close in from the rear when the attack begins and prevent any attempt by the British to get back to their barracks. Any volunteers who are unarmed carry short clubs hidden on their person.

One of the cars, with George Power in charge, is halted near the church, with two men attending to an imaginary breakdown. The second car, which includes Liam Lynch, drives up Patrick Street behind the party of soldiers, timing it to arrive at the church at the same moment as the soldiers. A whistle blast begins the assault. Liam Lynch calls on the soldiers to surrender but they immediately resist. The attackers rush them, shots are fired and for a minute or two there is a confused struggle. A soldier swinging a rifle butt at Lynch is shot dead while three others are wounded. When the soldiers are finally overpowered, their rifles are taken from them and piled into the Buick driven by Leo O’Callaghan. Into that car also goes Liam Lynch, Owen Harold, Ned Waters, Tom Griffin, Larry Condon, Michael Fitzgerald and John Fanning while Jack Mulvey’s Ford contains Pat Leahy, John Joe Hogan, Peter O’Callaghan, George Power and Dan Hegarty. Both cars head out the Tallow road while the remaining volunteers scatter on foot.

Shortly afterwards a bugle call at the barracks raises the alarm and within minutes two lorry loads of soldiers are speeding out the Lismore road in pursuit. However, at Carrigabrick, a mile and a quarter from the town, two trees on the roadside have been partly sawn through and then held in position by ropes. The moment the cars carrying the rifles pass, the trees come down with a crash thereby forcing the pursuers to make a detour and lose the trail. At Kilmagner, five miles from Fermoy, the rifles are taken to a pre-arranged spot and safely concealed. The following night they are transferred to a dump in the Araglen company area.

Much thought had been given to the selection of officers and men for the task. It is inevitable that those of them who are well known locally would thereafter have to evade arrest. Intensive searches by military and police continue throughout the day. Parties of military in lorries scour the countryside, cars are held up and many people questioned. Two days later the district is proclaimed a military area.

On the Monday night following the raid a large party of soldiers from the British garrison at Fermoy descend upon the town. They smash the windows in most of the shops in Pearse Square, MacCurtain Street and Patrick Street and loot the contents. The following night the troops are confined to barracks, but on Wednesday night they assemble again but find a large crowd of residents waiting for them in Emmet Street. Armed with sticks, stones and other weapons, the local people attack the soldiers so furiously that they are driven back to their barracks. Many citizens barricade their homes and premises and prepare to defend them against further attack, but by Thursday the spate of lawlessness appears to be over for the time being.

However, arrests soon follow. Local Battalion Commandant Michael Fitzgerald, Vice Commandant Larry Condon and Fermoy Company Captain, John Fanning, are among those detained. Others arrested are James Fanning, John Swaine, John Joe Hogan, Martin O’Keeffe, Dick O’Keeffe, Pat Leahy, Tom Griffin, Peter O’Callaghan and Jack Mulvey. Two months later further arrests are made at Mallow. Dan Hegarty, Brian Kelly, Ned Waters, Owen Harold and Leo O’Callaghan are detained. After a series of weekly remands, the prisoners are returned for trial at the Cork Assizes in July, 1920. At Cork the Grand Jury finds against Michael Fitzgerald, John Joe Hogan and Dan Hegarty. The remainder are released.

(From: “Arms Captured in Attack on Military at Fermoy,” http://homepage.eircom.net/~corkcounty/ | Pictured: The former Wesleyan Church in Fermoy)


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Gerry Adams Announces Re-election Bid as Sinn Féin President

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams announces on September 5, 2017, he will seek re-election as the party president in November and then outline his own future intentions as the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) prepares to complete a generational shift in its leadership.

Adams, Sinn Féin leader for over thirty years, will seek re-election to the one-year post at the party’s annual conference and set out his future plans at that time. “I will be allowing my name to go forward for the position of Uachtaran Shinn Féin (President of Sinn Féin),” Adams says in a speech at a meeting of the party’s lawmakers. “And if elected I will be setting out our priorities and in particular our planned process of generational change, including my own future intentions.”

“We have no ambition to be part of the system. Our ambition is to change it. That means we must be in government – North and South,” Adams says.

Reviled by many as the face of the IRA during its campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland, Adams reinvented himself as a peacemaker in the troubled region and then as a populist opposition lawmaker in the Irish Republic. Around 3,600 people were killed during Northern Ireland’s “Troubles,” three decades of sectarian bloodshed between pro-British Protestant unionists and Catholic nationalists seeking a united Ireland that was ended by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Whenever Adams decides to step down, he will almost certainly hand over to a successor with no direct involvement in the decades of conflict in Northern Ireland, say political analysts, making Sinn Féin a more palatable coalition partner in the Irish Republic where it has never been in power. Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, who has been at the forefront of a new breed of Sinn Féin politicians transforming the left-wing party’s image, is the clear favorite to take over. Michelle O’Neill, another Sinn Féin lawmaker in her 40s, succeeded Martin McGuinness as leader in Northern Ireland shortly before the former IRA commander’s death in March 2017.

With McGuinness, Adams turned Sinn Féin into the dominant nationalist party in Northern Ireland and the third largest party south of the border. Adams said the previous month that he intended to lead the party into the next parliamentary election in the Irish republic where suspicion of Sinn Féin’s role in the Northern Ireland troubles still runs deep among the main political parties.

The far larger ruling Fine Gael and main opposition Fianna Fáil, a more natural ally, have ruled out governing with Sinn Féin but analysts say a change of leader could soften that stance. The next election is expected in the next 12 months.

(From: “Sinn Féin’s Adams to outline succession plan in November” by Padraic Halpin | Photo: Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams speaks at an event in Gormanstown, Ireland, September 5, 2017, REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne)


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The Great Portlaoise Escape

Nineteen republican prisoners blast their way out of Portlaoise Prison in County Laois on August 18, 1974.

The escape is a timely reminder of the determination, tenacity and ingenuity with which Irish Republican Army (IRA) Volunteers throughout the country fight against British rule in Ireland. It is also a reminder to the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government in Leinster House that their collaboration with the British and their attempts to defeat republicanism will not be an easy task.

The determination of republicans to escape from Portlaoise is demonstrated by the escape. In May 1974, an underground escape was planned but the 80-foot tunnel was uncovered and the prisoners’ hopes were dashed. However, almost immediately plans swung into place for a more daring escape operation.

A member of the Escape Committee spots a weakness in the jail security in the area of the prison where the laundry house is situated. The laundry leads to an outside stairway and down into the courtyard, where the Governor’s House and Warders’ Mess are located.

The prisoners discover that they can gain access to the laundry area quite easily. It is a doorway at the top of the courtyard which leads out onto the streets of Portlaoise town itself that give the prisoners hope that their plan will work. However, the Escape Committee decides that they need explosives to get through this gate and send word outside to this effect. The IRA on the outside, agreeing that the plan is “viable,” send in the materials and the plan is on.

The date for the escape is set for August 18, 1974 and planning proceeds inside the prison. The prisoners set themselves to work making prison guard uniforms. The idea is that when the escapees are running through the courtyard, the troops on the roof of the jail will not be able to distinguish between the escapees and the real guards and so will not open fire. This pre-planning proves to be a brilliant ploy as it gives those escaping vital seconds to clear the courtyard and make good their escape.

On the Friday before the plan is to proceed, a number of republicans are arrested in Portlaoise. This seems a bad omen and raises questions as to whether the authorities are suspicious that an escape is planned. However, the Escape Committee and those involved in the operation decide to press ahead with the plan anyway.

Sunday, August 18 duly arrives. According to prisoners who are in Portlaoise Prison at the time, no one can eat anything that day as the tension is unbearable. At 12:30 p.m., the designated time to put the plan into action, arrives and Liam Brown approaches the guard at the gate of the lower landing and asks to be let in. This is the signal for the first team of escapees to rush forward and get the key to the laundry. The guard is quickly overpowered and gives up the key with little resistance.

With this first stage of the plan successfully completed, the escapees open the door to the stairwell and rush through to the courtyard, followed by up to 25 other prisoners. As the prisoners race to the top of the yard to place the bomb at the outside gate, the soldiers on the roof are confused by the uniforms and cannot open fire.

The bomb then explodes, blasting the door to pieces. As the prisoners make the final dash for freedom, the soldiers fire warning shots over the heads of the fleeing republicans. Some of the prisoners drop to the ground fearing the worst but as the guards race from their mess they call on the soldiers to stop firing.

Those who are captured are brought into the Wing again and the governor demands a head count. The prisoners, however, refuse to comply, adding to the confusion and thwarting the prison authorities’ attempts to identify the escapees. It is only after the guards threaten to send in the riot squad several hours later that the prisoners allow a head count to be taken. When they realise that 19 men had escaped, the joy the prisoner experience is immense as they thought only 14 had got away.

In an attempt to capture the escapees, the Dublin Government launches a statewide search operation. Every outhouse in County Wexford is searched. The Irish Naval Service is even called in and put on the alert. The searches go on for over a week but to no avail. The nineteen men had gotten clean away.

Those who escape are Liam Brown, Paddy Devenny and Micky Nolan from Belfast; Tom McFeely and Ian Milne from County Derry; Thomas McGinty and Eddie Gallagher from County Donegal; Patrick Thornberry, Kevin McAllister and Martin McAllister from County Armagh; Francis Hughes and Kevin Mallon from County Tyrone; Oliver McKiernan from County Fermanagh; Bernard Hegarty and Sam O’Hare from County Louth; Michael Kinsella and Seán Kinsella from County Monaghan; Seán Morris from County Meath; and Tony Weldon from Dublin.

(From: “30 years on: The Great Portlaoise Escape,” An Phoblacht, http://www.anphoblacht.com, August 26, 2004)


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First Assassination by “The Squad”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Death of Joe Cahill, Former Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA

Joe Cahill, a prominent figure in the Irish Republican movement in Northern Ireland and former Chief of Staff of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), dies in Belfast on July 23, 2004.

Cahill is born in Belfast on May 19, 1920. He is educated at St. Mary’s Christian Brothers’ Grammar School. At age 14 he leaves school to assist in his father’s print shop. Soon after, he joins the Catholic Young Men’s Society, which campaigns on social issues with a focus on eradicating moneylenders from working-class areas of Belfast, as they often charge usurious interest rates. At the age of seventeen, he joins Na Fianna Éireann, a republican-orientated Scouting movement. Na Fianna Eireann is regarded as the “Junior Irish Republican Army.”

Cahill joins the local Clonard-based ‘C’ Company of the Belfast Brigade of the Irish Republican Army in 1938. Four years later, during an anniversary march by the IRA for the Easter Rising, he gets into a shootout with five other IRA men against four Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers. Several men are wounded and Constable Patrick Murphy is killed. Cahill and four of the other men spend time in prison in Belfast. The IRA declares a formal ceasefire in 1945. Afterwards, republican prisoners begin to be released. Cahill is released in October 1949.

The IRA launches a new campaign in 1956. The IRA border campaign attacks ten targets in six counties, damaging bridges, courthouses and border roads. By 1957, three RUC officers and seven republicans have been killed during the campaign. Cahill is arrested and interned in January 1957 with several other republicans. He is released from internment in April 1961. Following his release from prison, he is disappointed at the direction of the IRA and resigns from the organisation around 1962.

In 1969, Cahill is a key figure in the founding of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. During his time in the Provisional IRA, he helps import weapons and raise financial support. He serves as the Chief of Staff in 1972, but is arrested the following year when a ship importing weapons is intercepted.

After his release, Cahill continues to serve on the IRA Army Council and leads all financial dealings for Sinn Féin. In the 1990s, the IRA and Sinn Féin begin to work on seeking peace. Cahill serves on the council that calls a cessation on July 21, 1996. He attends several of the talks that finally lead to the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998. Shortly after the agreement is made, he resigns as treasurer of Sinn Féin. To honour his service, he is made honorary Sinn Féin Vice-President for life. He serves the Republican movement in Ireland all his life, as one of the longest-serving political activists in Ireland of any political party.

Cahill dies at age 84 in Belfast on July 23, 2004. He had been diagnosed with asbestosis, which he probably developed while working at the Harland & Wolff shipyards in his twenties. He and several other former shipyard workers later sue the company for their exposure to the dangerous substances but only win minimal compensation.