seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Battle of Brunswick Street

*The Battle of Brunswick Street occurs in Dublin on March 14, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

British authorities hang six Irish Republican Army (IRA) Volunteers in Mountjoy Gaol for crimes of high treason and murder on the morning of March 14, 1921. The Volunteers, including Francis Xavier Flood, Thomas Bryan, Patrick Doyle, Bernard Ryan and Dermot O’Sullivan, had been captured in an ambush at Drumcondra two months earlier.

The gates of Mountjoy Gaol are opened at 8:25 AM and news of the executions is read out to the distraught relatives of the dead. As many as 40,000 people gather outside the prison and many mournfully say the Rosary for the executed men.

By evening, the streets clear rapidly as the British-imposed curfew comes into effect at 9:00 PM each night. During this period, the city is a fearful place, patrolled by regular British troops and the much-feared paramilitary police, the Auxiliary Division, as people scurry home and await IRA retaliation for the hangings, which is not long in coming.

That very evening, IRA captain Peadar O’Meara sends as many as thirty-four IRA men out to attack police or military targets. They are armed with the standard urban guerrilla arms of easily hidden handguns and grenades. One young Volunteer, Sean Dolan, throws a grenade at a police station on nearby Merrion Square, which bounces back before it explodes, blowing off his own leg.

At around 8:00 PM, with the curfew fast approaching, a company of Auxiliaries based in Dublin Castle is sent to the area to investigate the explosion. It consists of one Rolls Royce armoured car and two trucks holding about sixteen men. Apparently the Auxiliaries have some inside information as they head straight for the local IRA headquarters at 144 Great Brunswick Street, now Pearse Street. One later testifies in court that “I had been notified there were a certain number of gunmen there.”

The IRA is expecting the Auxiliaries. As soon as the Auxiliaries approach the building, fire is opened on them from three sides. What is described in newspapers as a “hail of fire” tears into the Auxiliaries’ vehicles. Five of the eight Auxiliaries in the first truck are hit in the opening fusillade, two of them fatally injured. The IRA fighters, however, are seriously outgunned. The Rolls Royce armoured car is impervious to small arms fire (except its tires, which are shot out) but mounts a Vickers heavy machine gun which sprays the surrounding houses with bullets. The uninjured Auxiliaries also clamber out of their trucks and return fire at the gun flashes from street corners and rooftops.

Civilian passersby fling themselves to the ground to avoid the bullets but four are hit, by which side it is impossible to tell. The British military court of inquiry into the incident finds that the civilians had been killed by persons unknown, if by the IRA then they were “murdered,” if hit by Auxiliaries the shootings were “accidental.”

The gunfire lasts only five minutes but in that time seven people, including the two Auxiliaries, are killed or fatally wounded and at least six more wounded. Three civilians lay dead on the street – Thomas Asquith is a 68-year-old caretaker, David Kelly is a prominent Sinn Féin member and head of the Sinn Féin bank, and Stephen Clarke, aged 22, is an ex-soldier and may have been the individual who tipped off the Auxiliaries about the whereabouts of the IRA meeting house. An internal IRA report notes that he is “under observation, as he was a tout for the enemy.” The wounded are spirited away by sympathetic fire brigade members and members of Cumann na mBan and treated at nearby Mercer’s Hospital.

Two IRA men are captured as they flee the scene. Thomas Traynor, a 40-year-old veteran of the Easter Rising, is carrying an automatic pistol, but claims to have had no part in the ambush itself. He had, he maintains, simply been asked to bring in the weapon to 144 Great Brunswick Street. The other is Joseph Donnelly a youth of just 17 years of age.

As most of the IRA fighters get away through houses, over walls and into backstreets, the Auxiliaries ransack St. Andrew’s Catholic Hall at 144 Great Brunswick Street but find little of value. Regular British Army troops quickly arrive from nearby Beggars Bush Barracks and cordon off the area, but no further arrests are made. Desultory sniping carries on in the city for several hours into the night.


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Birth of Seán Mac Stíofáin, Irish Republican Army Commander

sean-mac-stiofainSeán Mac Stíofáin, Irish Republican Army (IRA) commander and a founding member of the Provisional IRA and its first chief of staff, is born in Leytonstone, London on February 17, 1928.

Mac Stíofáin is born John Stephenson, the son of Protestant parents. He claims Irish ancestry on his mother’s side although the validity of this is uncertain. He leaves school at sixteen, working as a labourer and converting to Catholicism. He also serves in the Royal Air Force during World War II, working as a storeman. After the war, he becomes involved and obsessed with Irish republicanism. He joins the Irish Republican Army in 1949 and helps organise an IRA unit in London.

In 1953, Stephenson leads a raid that steals rifles and mortars from a cadet school armoury in Essex. He is stopped randomly by police, arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison. He serves more than three years behind bars, using this time to learn Irish Gaelic. Released in 1956, he marries an Irish woman, moves to Dublin and changes his name to Seán Mac Stíofáin, the Gaelic form of his birth name.

Mac Stíofáin gradually ascends through the ranks of the IRA, becoming its director of intelligence. The outbreak of the Troubles in 1969 opens up divisions in the IRA over strategy and tactics. While Cathal Goulding and other leaders want to use violence carefully, Mac Stíofáin and his supporters urge open warfare with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

In August 1969, Mac Stíofáin leads a raid on the RUC station at Crossmaglen, in defiance of IRA orders. In December, he and four others form a Provisional Army Council. This splinter group becomes the nucleus of the Provisional IRA.

Mac Stíofáin becomes the Provisional IRA’s first chief of staff. He also oversees its rearming and the escalation of its military campaign in Northern Ireland. In July 1972, he represents the Provisional IRA in secret talks with the British government in London. When these talks collapse he orders an increase in Provisional IRA operations, beginning with the mass bombing of Belfast on July 21, 1972.

Mac Stíofáin remains in charge until November 1972, when a controversial television interview leads to his arrest, imprisonment and removal from the Provisional IRA leadership. He is released the following year but is no longer prominent in the Provisional IRA. He spends the rest of the 1970s working for a Sinn Féin newspaper.

Mac Stíofáin died on May 18, 2001 in Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan, County Meath, after a long illness. He is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Navan. His funeral is attended by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.


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Death of Actor T.P. McKenna

thomas-patrick-mckennaCharacter actor Thomas Patrick McKenna, known professionally as T.P. McKenna and for his stage, film, and television work, dies at Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, London on February 13, 2011 following a long illness.

McKenna is born in Mullagh, County Cavan on September 7, 1929. A prolific theater actor throughout his career, he makes his stage debut in Summer and Smoke by Tennessee Williams at the Pike Theatre in Dublin in 1954.

McKenna makes his film debut in the IRANazi drama The Night Fighters (1960) and from this uncredited beginning he moves up to tenth billing in The Siege of Sidney Street (1960). His next major movie is Girl with Green Eyes (1964), by which time he has also started a successful television career, making his TV debut in Espionage (1963) and over the next few years appears in several more TV shows. His versatility enables him to play three characters in The Avengers (1961). He is also featured in such well-regarded shows as Adam Adamant Lives! (1966), Dixon of Dock Green (1955) and The Saint (1962).

Meanwhile, McKenna’s film career develops along literary lines, and he is featured in Brendan Behan‘s The Quare Fellow (1962), the Sean O’Casey biopic Young Cassidy (1965) and James Joyce‘s Ulysses (1967). He takes smaller parts in such epics as The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) and Anne of the Thousand Days (1969).

British films such as Perfect Friday (1970) and Villain (1971) allowed McKenna to showcase his suave, urbane persona before trying something different in the controversial Straw Dogs (1971). He appears alongside a young Anthony Hopkins in All Creatures Great and Small (1975) before starring with John Gielgud for the second time, this time in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1977). Over the next few years his co-stars are as diverse as Leonard Rossiter (Britannia Hospital (1982)), Timothy Dalton (The Doctor and the Devils (1985)), Ben Kingsley (Pascali’s Island (1988)) and Dolph Lundgren (Red Scorpion (1988)). Not all of these films are successes, but he always gives good value for the money and develops themes of his, such as an interest in Irish issues, in The Outsider (1980). His last released film is Valmont (1989), which is unfortunately completely overshadowed by Dangerous Liaisons (1988), which is based on the same novel.

Over the years McKenna makes numerous guest appearances in TV series such as Minder (1979), Casualty (1986), Lovejoy (1986), Inspector Morse (1987), Heartbeat (1992) and Ballykissangel (1996). He is also prominent in TV movies and series, featuring in Charles DickensMasterpiece Theatre: Bleak House (1985), Stendhal‘s Scarlet and Black (1993) and an adaptation of Henry JamesThe American (1998).

McKenna dies on February 13, 2011 at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, London, at the age of 81 following a long period of illness. He is buried alongside his wife at Teampall Cheallaigh Cemetery in his native County Cavan.

Following his death, tributes are paid by President of Ireland Mary McAleese, Prince Charles, and Ireland’s Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport Mary Hanafin, who says that McKenna was “one of a great generation whose talents on the screen and stage both at home and abroad gave us all great pride in his accomplishments.” In County Cavan, he is commemorated by the T. P. McKenna Drama Scholarships (VEC) and the T. P. McKenna Perpetual Trophy presented as part of the Millrace Annual Drama Festival.


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Death of Republican Activist James Murphy

black-and-tans-and-auxies-dublin-ireland-1921Republican activist James Murphy dies in Mater Hospital, Dublin on February 11, 1921. Before he dies, he declares that he and Patrick Kennedy had been shot by their Auxiliary captors. A court of inquiry is held, and Captain W. L. King, commanding officer of F Company Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary (ADRIC), is arrested for the killings.

James Murphy and Patrick Kennedy are arrested by Auxiliaries in Dublin on February 9 and are taken into the custody of ‘F’ company. Two hours later, constables of the Dublin Metropolitan Police find the two men lying shot, with pails on their heads, in Clonturk Park, Drumcondra. Kennedy is dead and Murphy is fatally wounded. He dies in Mater Hospital, Dublin two days later.

Just before dying Murphy testifies that King had taken them and stated that they were “just going for a drive.” King is arrested for the killings. King and two of his men, Hinchcliffe and Welsh, are court-martialed on February 13-15, but are acquitted after Murphy’s dying declaration is ruled inadmissible and two officers from ‘F’ Company provide perjured alibis for King at the time of the shootings.

King is implicated and court-martialed for the deaths of Conor Clune, Peadar Clancy, and Dick McKee, the latter two leading lights in the Dublin Irish Republican Army, the former a luckless Gaelic League member, who are all captured in Dublin on November 20, 1920, the day before Bloody Sunday. Clune is caught at Vaughn’s Hotel in Parnell Square, Dublin and the two IRA leaders at Lower Gloucester Street, complete with British Army officer uniforms and detonators.

Sometime between then and the next day, in the Dublin Castle guard-room, as news filters in of the deaths of several British intelligence officers, the prisoners are killed in questionable circumstances. According to an official report from Dublin Castle, they attempted to grab rifles and hurl unfused grenades and are killed in that action. The guards of ‘F’ Company in the room at the time are cleared of wrongdoing by a court inquiry. A Major Reynolds of ‘F’ Company is said to have passed details of the killers to Michael Collins. The Times notes that it seems as if the prisoners had been lined up and shot. In a later novel, a Captain Hardy more or less confesses to the killing of one of the prisoners.

Ironically, Captain King is on Michael Collins’s list of British Intelligence officers to be executed on the morning of November 20, 1920, he is not in his room when the assassins arrive but rather he is interrogating the prisoners in Dublin Castle.

(Pictured: Mixed gunmen of the Royal Irish Constabulary’s Auxiliary Division and Black and Tans contingents, Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland)


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Hanging of Peter Barnes & James Richards

peter-barnes-and-james-mccormackIrish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers Peter Barnes and James Richards are hanged in Winston Green Prison in Birmingham, England on February 7, 1940 for their involvement in a bombing in Coventry the previous year which killed five people.

Barnes and Richards (also known as James McCormack) are members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and participate in the August 25, 1939 Coventry bombing which kills five people. Although they both admit to constructing the bomb, which is intended to be used to destroy a power station, they claim not to be involved in planting the bomb.

Seán MacBride, a former Chief of Staff of the IRA and Irish barrister, attempts to secure their release claiming they are being illegally held without a writ of habeas corpus. However, both are charged with murder on December 12 along with Brigid O’Hara and Joseph and Mary Hewitt. All five plead not guilty before the court at Birmingham Assizes.

Brigid O’Hara issues statements between August 28 and September 4 to Scotland Yard and Birmingham City Police denying any knowledge of the bombings and later provides evidence for the prosecution. Found guilty of murder on December 15, Barnes and Richards are hanged at Winston Green Prison in Birmingham on February 7, 1940. Their remains are returned to Dublin in 1969.

The reinterment in Mullingar, County Westmeath is attended by an estimated 15,000 people. Mass is said in Irish in the Cathedral before the funeral to Ballyglass Cemetery. Among those attending are three brothers of Peter Barnes and a sister and brother of McCormack.

The trial and execution results in a public outcry in Ireland against Neville Chamberlain and the British Government as Peadar O’Donnell and other prominent Irish writers sign a petition campaigning for leniency towards the condemned men.


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Founding of the Irish National Army

irish-national-army-cap-badgeThe first regiment of the Irish National Army, sometimes unofficially referred to as the Free State army or the Regulars, is set up in Dublin on January 31, 1922.

The National Army is the army of the Irish Free State from January 1922 until October 1924. Its role in this period is defined by its service in the Irish Civil War, in defence of the institutions established by the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Michael Collins is the army’s first chief of staff from its establishment until his death in an ambush at Béal na mBláth on August 22, 1922.

The National Army is constituted from the revolutionary Irish Republican Army (IRA), which emerges from the successful Irish War of Independence fought as a guerrilla campaign against the British Army and Royal Irish Constabulary. Its first troops are those IRA volunteers who support the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the Provisional Government of Ireland formed there under. The army makes its first public appearance on January 31, 1922, when command of Beggars Bush Barracks is handed over from the British Army.

Conflict arises between the National Army and the anti-Treaty components of the IRA, which does not support the government of the Irish Free State. On June 28, 1922 the National Army commences an artillery bombardment of anti-Treaty IRA forces who are occupying the Four Courts in Dublin, thus beginning the Irish Civil War.

The National Army is greatly expanded in size to fight the civil war against the anti-Treaty IRA, in a mostly counter-insurgency campaign that is brought to a successful conclusion in May 1923. From October 1, 1924, the Army is reorganised into a smaller, better regulated force. The term “National Army” is superseded by the legal establishment of the Defence Forces as the Irish Free State’s military force.


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Birth of Tomás Mac Giolla, Irish Workers’ Party Politician

tomas-mac-giollaTomás Mac Giolla, Workers’ Party of Ireland politician who serves as Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1993 to 1994, leader of the Workers’ Party from 1962 to 1988 and leader of Sinn Féin from 1962 to 1970, is born Thomas Gill in Nenagh, County Tipperary on January 25, 1924. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin West constituency from 1982 to 1992.

Mac Giolla’s uncle T. P. Gill is a Member of Parliament (MP) and member of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) of Charles Stewart Parnell. His father, Robert Paul Gill, an engineer and architect, also stands unsuccessfully for election on a number of occasions. His mother is Mary Hourigan.

Mac Giolla is educated at the local national school in Nenagh before completing his secondary education at St. Flannan’s College in Ennis, County Clare. It is while at St. Flannan’s that he changes to using the Irish language version of his name. He wins a scholarship to University College Dublin where he qualifies with a Bachelor of Arts degree, followed by a degree in Commerce.

A qualified accountant, Mac Giolla is employed by the Irish Electricity Supply Board (ESB) from 1947 until he goes into full-time politics in 1977.

In his early life Mac Giolla is an active republican. He joins Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) around 1950. He is interned by the Government of Ireland during the 1956–1962 IRA border campaign. He also serves a number of prison sentences in Mountjoy Prison in Dublin.

At the 1961 Irish general election, Mac Giolla unsuccessfully contests the Tipperary North constituency for Sinn Féin. In 1962, he becomes President of Sinn Féin, and is one of the people who moves the party to the left during the 1960s. In 1969, Sinn Féin splits and he remains leader of Official Sinn Féin. It is also in 1962 that he marries May McLoughlin who is also an active member of Sinn Féin as well as Cumann na mBan, the women’s section of the IRA. In 1977, the party changes its name to Sinn Féin the Workers Party and in 1982 it becomes simply the Workers’ Party.

Mac Giolla is elected to Dublin City Council representing the Ballyfermot local electoral area in 1979 and at every subsequent local election until he retires from the council in 1997. In the November 1982 Irish general election he is elected to Dáil Éireann for his party. In 1988, he steps down as party leader and is succeeded by Proinsias De Rossa. He serves as Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1993 to 1994 and remains a member of Dublin Corporation until 1998.

While president Mac Giolla is regarded as a mediator between the Marxist-Leninist wing headed by Sean Garland and the social democratic wing of Prionsias De Rossa. At the 1992 special Ard Fheis he votes for the motion to abandon democratic centralism and to re-constitute the party much as the Italian Communist Party became the Democratic Party of the Left. However the motion fails to reach the required two-thirds majority. Following the departure of six Workers’ Party TDs led by De Rossa to form the new Democratic Left party in 1992, Mac Giolla is the sole member of the Workers’ Party in the Dáil. He loses his Dáil seat at the 1992 Irish general election by a margin of just 59 votes to Liam Lawlor of Fianna Fáil.

In 1999, Mac Giolla writes to the chairman of the Flood Tribunal calling for an investigation into revelations that former Dublin Assistant City and County Manager George Redmond had been the official supervisor at the election count in Dublin West and was a close associate of Liam Lawlor. In 2003, Redmond is convicted of corruption by a Dublin court but subsequently has his conviction quashed due to conflicting evidence.

In his eighties Mac Giolla continues to be active and is a member of the group which campaigns to prevent the demolition of No. 16 Moore Street in Dublin city centre, where the surrender after the Easter Rising was completed. He also serves on the Dublin ’98 committee to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

Tomás Mac Giolla dies in Beaumont Hospital in Beaumont, Dublin on February 4, 2010 after a long illness.