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


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Birth of Dan Breen, IRA Volunteer & Fianna Fáil Politician

Irish republican Dan Breen (1967)Daniel “Dan” Breen, volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, is born in Grange, Donohill parish, County Tipperary, on August 11, 1894. In later years, he is a Fianna Fáil politician.

Breen’s father dies when he is six, leaving the family very poor. He is educated locally before becoming a plasterer and later a linesman on the Great Southern Railways.

Breen is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1912 and the Irish Volunteers in 1914. On January 21, 1919, the day the First Dáil meets in Dublin, Breen takes part in the Soloheadbeg Ambush. The ambush party of eight men, led by Seán Treacy, attacks two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men who are escorting explosives to a quarry. The two policemen, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell, are fatally shot during the incident. The ambush is considered to be the first incident of the Irish War of Independence.

During the conflict, the British put a £1,000 price on Breen’s head, which is later increased to £10,000. He quickly establishes himself as a leader within the Irish Republican Army. He is known for his courage. On May 13, 1919 he helps rescue his comrade Seán Hogan at gunpoint from a heavily guarded train at Knocklong station in County Limerick. Breen, who is wounded, remembers how the battalion is “vehemently denounced as a cold-blooded assassins” and roundly condemned by the Catholic Church. After the fight, Treacy, Séumas Robinson, and Breen meet Michael Collins in Dublin, where they are told to make themselves scarce although they do not necessarily agree.

Breen and Sean Treacy shoot their way out through a British military cordon in the northern suburb of Drumcondra (Fernside). They escape, only for Treacy to be killed the next day. Breen is shot at least four times, twice in the lung.

The British reaction is to make Tipperary a “Special Military Area,” with curfews and travel permits. Volunteer GHQ authorises entrerprising attacks on barracks. The British policy forces Breen and Treacy to retreat to Dublin. They join Michael Collins’ Squad of assassins, later known as the Dublin Guard, and Dublin becomes the centre of the war.

Breen is present in December 1919 at the ambush in Ashtown beside Phoenix Park in Dublin where Martin Savage is killed while trying to assassinate the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Viscount John French. The IRA hides behind hedges and a dungheap as the convoy of vehicles drives past. They have been instructed to ignore the first car but this contains their target, Lord French. Their roadblock fails as a policeman removes the horse and cart intended to stop the car.

Breen utterly rejects the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which makes him, like many others, angry and embittered. In the June 1922 elections Breen is nominated as a candidate by both the pro- and anti-Treaty sides, but is not elected.

Breen is elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election as a Republican anti-Treaty Teachta Dála (TD) for the Tipperary constituency. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Breen joins the Anti-Treaty IRA in the civil war, fighting against those of his former comrades in arms who support the Treaty. He is arrested by the National Army of the Irish Free State and interned at Limerick Prison. He spends two months there before going on hunger strike for six days followed by a thirst strike of six days, prompting his release.

Breen writes a best-selling account of his guerrilla days, My Fight for Irish Freedom, in 1924. He represents Tipperary from the fourth Dáil in 1923 as a Republican with Éamon de Valera and Frank Aiken. He is defeated in the June 1927 general election and travels to the United States where he opens a prohibition speakeasy. In 1932 he returns to Ireland and regains his seat as a member of Fianna Fáil in the Dáil at that year’s general election. During World War II he is said to hold largely pro-Axis views. He represents his Tipperary constituency without a break until his retirement at the 1965 election.

Breen dies in Dublin on December 27, 1969 and is buried in Donohill, near his birthplace. His funeral is the largest seen in west Tipperary since that of his close friend and comrade-in-arms Seán Treacy at Kilfeacle in October 1920. An estimated attendance of 10,000 mourners assemble in the tiny hamlet, giving ample testimony to the esteem in which he was held.

Breen is the subject of a 2007 biography Dan Breen and the IRA by Joe Ambrose.

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Operation Demetrius

long-kesh-internment-campOperation Demetrius, a British Army operation in Northern Ireland begins on August 9, 1971, during the Troubles. The operation involves the mass arrest and internment (imprisonment without trial) of 342 people suspected of being involved with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which is waging a campaign for a united Ireland against the British state.

Operation Demetrius, proposed by the Government of Northern Ireland and approved by the Government of the United Kingdom, begins throughout Northern Ireland in the early morning hours of Monday, August 9 and progresses in two parts:

  1. Arrest and movement of the detainees to one of three regional holding centers: Girdwood Barracks in Belfast, Abercorn Barracks in Ballykinler, County Down, or HM Prison Magilligan near LimavadyCounty Londonderry.
  2. The process of identification and questioning, leading either to release of the detainee or movement into detention at HM Prison Crumlin Road or aboard HMS Maidstone, a prison ship in Belfast Harbour.

The operation sparks four days of violence in which 20 civilians, two IRA members and two British soldiers are killed. All of those arrested are Irish nationalists, the vast majority of them Catholic. Due to faulty intelligence, many have no links with the IRA. Ulster loyalist paramilitaries are also carrying out acts of violence, which are mainly directed against Catholics and Irish nationalists, but no loyalists are included in the sweep.

The introduction of internment, the way the arrests are carried out, and the abuse of those arrested, lead to mass protests and a sharp increase in violence. Amid the violence, about 7,000 people flee or are forced out of their homes. The interrogation techniques used on some of the internees are described by the European Commission of Human Rights in 1976 as torture, but the superior court, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), rules on appeal in 1978 that, although the techniques are “inhuman and degrading”, they do not, in this instance, constitute torture. It is later revealed that the British government had withheld information from the ECHR and that the policy had been authorized by British government ministers. In December 2014, in light of the new evidence, the Irish government asks the ECHR to revise its 1978 judgement. The ECHR declines the request in 2018.

The backlash against internment contributes to the decision of the British Government under Prime Minister Edward Heath to suspend the Northern Ireland Government and replace it with direct rule from Westminster, under the authority of a British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This takes place in 1972.

Following the suspension of the Northern Ireland Government and Parliament, internment is continued by the direct rule administration until December 5, 1975. During this time 1,981 people are interned, 1,874 are nationalist while 107 are loyalist. The first loyalist internees are detained in February 1973.

(Pictured: The entrance to Compound 19, one of the sections of Long Kesh internment camp)


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Paintings Again Stolen from Russborough House

russborough-house-theft-2001A pair of paintings valued at more than £3,000,000 are stolen by an armed gang from Russborough House in County Wicklow on June 26, 2001. The stolen paintings are Thomas Gainsborough‘s Madame Baccelli, the more valuable of the pair, and Bernardo Belotto‘s Scene of Florence.

Three masked men burst their way into the house after ramming the front door with a Mitsubishi at midday. After grabbing the paintings the men set fire to their getaway vehicle and attempt to hijack a car at gunpoint but its driver refuses to give it up. They are last seen running from the scene.

Chief Superintendent Sean Feely says that there were people in the house at the time of the robbery but no one was hurt. He adds that, because they are so well known, the paintings will be near impossible to sell. Raymond Keaveney, the Director of the National Gallery of Ireland, describes the theft as “an outrage.”

The robbery is a case of history repeating itself for Russborough House, twenty miles from Dublin, which has been the scene of two previous major art thefts.

In 1974, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) gang which includes Dr. Rose Dugdale, the British heiress, steal 19 paintings, valued at IR£8 million, from Russborough House which, at the time, is the home of the late Sir Alfred Beit, a member of the De Beers diamond family, and his wife. The couple are bound and gagged during the raid. The paintings are later found in County Cork. Dugdale and the others involved are ultimately jailed.

In 1986, a 13-strong gang headed by Martin Cahill, the Dublin crime chief who is later shot dead by the IRA, steals 18 works including some of those taken and recovered in the earlier raid. The paintings taken on this occasion include those by Johannes Vermeer, Gabriël Metsu, Francisco Goya, Thomas Gainsborough and Peter Paul Rubens. All but three of the paintings are recovered over a period of years at a number of locations, including London, Belgium, Holland and Turkey, after apparent unsuccessful attempts to sell them. The Gainsborough painting stolen on June 26 was also taken in the 1986 raid.

The Beit collection is made over to the Irish nation and many of the works are still on display at Russborough House.

(Pictured: The Mitsubishi used to ram the entrance of Russborough House sits near the front steps. The thieves torch this car before fleeing in another car. Note the gas can to the right of the car.)


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The Rathcoole Ambush

rathcoole-ambush-monumentThe Rathcoole Ambush, one of the largest ambushes of the Irish War of Independence, takes place at Rathcoole, County Cork on June 16, 1921.

The railway line between Banteer and Millstreet had been cut in several places so the British Auxiliary forces based at Millstreet have to travel to Banteer by road for their supplies twice a week. As a result, a combined force of 130 Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers from the Millstreet, Kanturk, Newmarket, Charleville and Mallow battalion columns are mobilised to attack the Auxiliaries as they return from Banteer. The volunteers are under the command of Paddy O’Brien from Liscarroll.

On the night before the ambush the IRA volunteers sleep at Rathcoole Wood, which overlooks the planned ambush position. Shortly after sunrise the following morning, Captain Dan Vaughan lays six land mines on the untarred road and covers them with dust. After a wait of several hours a convoy of four armour-plated lorries, each mounted with a machine gun and carrying ten men, is observed heading for Banteer.

The volunteers prepare themselves and at 6:20 in the evening, as the lorries pass through the ambush area on their return journey, three of the land mines explode with devastating results. One mine detonates as the last of the four lorries drives over it and another explodes under the leading lorry in the convoy. Both vehicles are out of action with the two other lorries trapped between them. A third mine explodes amid a party of Auxiliaries as they attempted to outflank the position. A bitter firefight develops. Each time Auxiliaries attempt to outflank the IRA they are driven back, suffering losses of more than twenty dead and over a dozen wounded.

When it becomes clear that the IRA cannot achieve a complete victory because of their limited ammunition supply, the order for withdrawal is given and the whole force retires without a single casualty. Although no arms are captured during the action, a reconnaissance party from the column returns the next day to search the ambush position and recovers 1,350 rounds of ammunition which the Auxiliaries had left behind them as they removed their dead and wounded.

The ambush at Rathcoole is one of the Irish Republican Army’s most successful actions during the War of Independence. A week after the ambush, British Forces from Kanturk, Buttevant, Ballyvonaire, Macroom, Ballincollig, Killarney and Tralee carry out a widespread search throughout the Rathcoole area. Michael Dineen, a Volunteer in Kilcorney Company is taken from his brother’s house at Ivale by a party of Auxiliaries and shot dead. On the evening of July 1, the Auxiliaries set fire to and destroy the wood at Rathcoole from where the ambush had been launched. That same day that they shoot and kill a local man, Bernard Moynihan, as he is out cutting hay.

(Pictured: Monument at the site of the Rathcoole Ambush)


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Assassination of RIC Inspector Percival Lea-Wilson

percival-lea-wilsonPercival Lea-Wilson, a District Inspector in the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) who is stationed at Gorey, County Wexford, is shot dead on June 15, 1920 by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) outside his Gorey home on the orders of Michael Collins.

Lea-Wilson is born in Kensington, London and is educated at the University of Oxford but his route into the British Army begins with a stint as a RIC constable in Charleville, County Cork in the early 20th century.

When World War I breaks out in 1914 Lea-Wilson joins the British army where he reaches the rank of captain in the 18th Royal Irish Regiment. An injury during the war forces him back to Ireland where he is stationed in Dublin, just in time for the Easter Rising in 1916.

When the week long rising ends, the rebels who had fought in the Four Courts and the GPO are marched to the Rotunda Hospital where they are kept overnight under the glare of British troops. Among those detained are leaders of the rebellion such as Sean Mac Diarmada and Tom Clarke. Clarke is singled out and subjected to public humiliation by 28-year-old British army Captain Percival Lea-Wilson.

Lea-Wilson and his soldiers walk among the captured rebels and he picks the 58-year-old Clarke out of the group. He marches Clarke to the steps of the hospital where he orders soldiers to strip him bare as nurses look on in horror from the windows above. Clarke is beaten and left there overnight in his tattered clothes. One of the prisoners, Michael Collins, who witnesses Clarke’s mistreatment at the hands of the British captain vows vengeance.

In the years following the Easter Rising, Lea-Wilson settles in Wexford where he attains the role of RIC district inspector.

On the morning of June 15, 1920, Lea-Wilson is walking back home after paying a visit to the RIC barracks in Gorey. Dressed in his civilian clothes, he stops at the local railway station where he purchases a newspaper and meets Constable Alexander O’Donnell, who accompanies him on part of his walk home.

O’Donnell and Lea-Wilson part company at the railway bridge on Ballycanew Road while further up that very same stretch of road there is a number of men standing around a parked car with its hood raised. Michael Collins had sent Liam Tobin and Frank Thornton from Dublin to meet with Joe McMahon, Michael McGrath and Michael Sinnott in Enniscorthy. They were then driven by Jack Whelan to Ballycanew Road to carry out the assassination of Lea-Wilson.

Unaware of his assassins lying in wait , Lea-Wilson is reading his paper while strolling along the road. The men by the parked car pull out revolvers when their target comes into range and two bullets strike him down. He manages to quickly get back on his feet and attempts to make an escape but his six assassins run after him and finally bring him down in a hail of bullets. A coroner’s report later states that Lea-Wilson had been shot seven times.

When the shooting ends, one of Lea-Wilson’s executioners calmly walks up to the body to make sure he is dead. He then picks up the newspaper from the ground and takes it with him. Later that evening Michael Collins is in the Wicklow Hotel in Dublin when word reaches him from Wexford of the shooting death of Lea-Wilson. Collins greets the news with glee and mentions to one of his comrades, “Well we finally got him!”

Percival Lea-Wilson is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery in southwest London. His grave is marked by a plaque which mentions his assassination in Gorey in 1920, a death which has its roots in the Easter Rising four years previously.


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Birth of Irish Historian Robert Walter Dudley Edwards

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), default qualityRobert Walter Dudley Edwards, Irish historian, is born in Dublin on June 4, 1909.

Edwards, known to his friends as Robin and his students as Dudley, is the son of Walter Dudley Edwards, a journalist who comes to Ireland with his wife, Bridget Teresa MacInerney from Clare, and becomes a civil servant. His mother is a supporter of women’s rights and Edwards recalls that he had a ‘Votes for Women’ flag on his pram. His mother is a suffragette and a member of Cumann na mBan, a women’s organisation designed to support the Irish Volunteers. Members of Cumann na mBan gather intelligence, transport arms, nurse wounded men, provide safe houses, and organise support for Irish Republican Army (IRA) men in prison.

Edwards is first educated at the Catholic University School, then moves to St. Enda’s School, a school set up by 1916 Irish revolutionary leader Patrick Pearse, after the 1916 rising, and then Synge Street CBS, finally returning to the Catholic University School. In his final exams he fails French and Irish but gains first place in Ireland in history.

In University College Dublin, Edwards is auditor of the Literary and Historical Society, gains a first-class degree in history in 1929 followed by a first class master’s degree in 1931 with the National University of Ireland prize. He carries out postgraduate work at the University of London and earns his PhD in 1933, published in 1935 as Church and State in Tudor Ireland.

Also in 1933, Edwards marries Sheila O’Sullivan, a folklorist and teacher. They have three children, Mary Dudley Edwards a teacher and rights activist, Ruth Dudley Edwards, a historian, crime novelist, journalist and broadcaster, and Owen Dudley Edwards, a historian at the University of Edinburgh.

Along with Theodore William Moody, Edwards founds the Irish Historical Society in 1936, and its journal Irish Historical Studies is first published in 1938.

In 1937 Edwards is awarded a D.Litt by the National University of Ireland and in 1939 is appointed to a statutory lectureship in Modern Irish History at University College Dublin. He succeeds Mary Hayden to the Chair of Modern Irish History in 1944, which he holds until he retires in 1979. His contribution to the discipline of History in Ireland is substantial, and includes the setting up of University College Dublin Archives Department, now part of the School of History.

The introduction to Edwards’ book Age of Atrocity records how the leading Irish history journal, Irish Historical Studies, edited by Edwards and Moody, for the first half-century and more of its existence, systematically avoids the theme of violence, killing and atrocity during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Following his wife’s death in April 1985, Robert Dudley Edwards dies on June 5, 1988 in St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin after a short illness.

(Pictured: Robert Walter Dudley Edwards (left) and Theodore William Moody (right).)


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The Munitions Strike

dublin-dock-strike-1920In May 1920, East London dockers refuse to load the SS Jolly George, a ship intended to carry arms to be used against the new Bolshevik state. The Munitions Strike begins in Dublin on May 20, 1920 when dock workers follow suit and refuse to handle war material. They are soon joined by members of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.

When news of the proposed radical action is brought to trade unionist William O’Brien’s desk on May 19, he informs Thomas Foran, General President of the union. The following day, the men standing around waiting to begin work are told that the work is not to start.

On hearing of the political action at the Dublin docks, a second ship was diverted to Dun Laoghaire. There, the military are on hand to unload its cargo, but when the cargo arrives at Westland Row station, workers there refuse to handle the goods. While the dockworkers are casual workers who can be reallocated elsewhere, the railwaymen are permanent employers and members of the separate National Union of Railwaymen.

In the following days, the action taken in Dublin and Dun Laoghaire is replicated elsewhere. To sections of the conservative press, the behaviour of dockers and railwaymen is scandalous. The ever reliable Punch illustrated news produces a sketch in a June 1920 edition showing an IRA gunman hiding behind a rural wall, joined by a railway worker, or “the blameless accomplice.”

The brave stand that began on the docks of Dublin spreads nationwide, largely thanks to the militancy of railway workers. From arms in storage, the strike is widened to include the carrying of men holding arms representing Crown Forces.

The munitions strike is an effective tactic, proven by the infuriated responses to it from the upper-echelons of the British military and political class. In November, the British Government begins closing rail lines, including the Limerick to Waterford and Limerick to Tralee lines,as well as trains into Galway, which instigate a fear among the public that the Irish railway system could be shut down in its entirety.

In the absence of sympathetic strike action in Britain, and with increasingly vicious physical assaults on railwaymen, the Irish leadership feels increasingly vulnerable in the dispute, which eventually winds down in December.