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


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Birth of Éamonn Ceannt, Irish Republican

eamonn-ceanntÉamonn Ceannt, Irish republican mostly known for his role in the Easter Rising of 1916, is born into a very religious Catholic family in the little village of Ballymoe, overlooking the River Suck in County Galway on September 21, 1881.

Ceannt, born Edward Thomas Kent, is the sixth of seven children of James Kent and Joanne Galway. His father is a Royal Irish Constabulary officer stationed in Ballymoe. In 1883 he is promoted and transferred to Ardee, County Louth. When his father retires from the force in 1892, the family moves to Dublin. Here he attends the North Richmond Street Christian Brothers School. Two other leaders from the 1916 rising, Seán Heuston and Con Colbert, are educated at the school. Upon finishing school, he goes on to secure a job with the clerical staff of the City Treasurer and Estates and Finances office. He works as an accountant with the Dublin Corporation from 1901-1916.

In 1907 Ceannt joins the Dublin central branch of Sinn Féin and over the following years becomes increasingly determined to see an Independent Ireland. In 1912 he is sworn to the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) by Seán MacDiarmada. This movement is pledged to achieve Irish independence and to do so by using physical force if necessary.

In May 1915, the IRB Military Council, consisting of Joseph Plunkett and Seán MacDiarmada as well as Ceannt, begin plans for a rebellion. Ceannt is one of the seven men to sign the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and is appointed Director of Communications. He is made commandant of the 4th Battalion of the Volunteers and during the Rising is stationed at the South Dublin Union, with more than 100 men under his command, notably his second-in-command Cathal Brugha, and W. T. Cosgrave. The South Dublin Union controls a large area south of Kilmainham around Dolphin’s Barn.

As 3rd Royal Irish come to Mount Brown, a section of Ceannt’s battalion under section commander John Joyce opens fire, killing a number of soldiers. The British cannot break through to Dublin Castle and so bring up more troops from Kilmainham Barracks. A ceasefire allows casualty retrieval. The Volunteers drive back repeated assaults from determined regimental attacks. Ceannt uses a contingent at the Marrowbone Lane Distillery to enfilade the passing soldiers. On Tuesday, April 25, the British could close off the battle but fail to press home the advantage when the 4th Royal Dublin Fusiliers arrive. Ceannt continues to hold out with 20 times fewer men. On Thursday, April 27, a British battalion comes south as far as the Rialto Bridge when Ceannt’s outposts open fire.

The British are forced to tunnel into the buildings and, as Ceannt’s numbers reduce, it is increasingly involved in close quarter fighting. His unit sees intense fighting at times during the week, but surrenders when ordered to do so by his superior officer Patrick Pearse.

After the unconditional surrender of the 1916 fighters, Ceannt, along with the other survivors, are brought to Richmond Barracks to be detained. On Monday, May 1, plain clothes detectives known as the “G-men” identify the leaders of the Rising, Ceannt being one of them. He is tried under court martial as demanded by General John Maxwell. Maxwell is determined to afflict the death penalty upon Ceannt and the other leaders of the Rising. However, he faces legal issues which only allow the death penalty to be used if one is found aiding the enemy, being Germany at this time. Not until Maxwell obtains a letter from Patrick Pearse addressed to his mother regarding the communication with the Germans is he legally obliged to deploy the death penalty. From this point Ceannt and his comrades begin facing the prospect of a firing squad. On Tuesday, May 2, he is sent to Kilmainham Gaol to face trial and execution.

Éamonn Ceannt is held in Kilmainham Gaol until his execution by firing squad on May 8, 1916, aged 34. He is buried at Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin.

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Birth of Michael Cusack, Founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association

michael-cusackMichael Cusack, teacher and founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association, is born to Irish speaking parents on September 20, 1847 in the parish of Carran on the eastern fringe of the Burren, County Clare during the Great Famine.

Cusack becomes a national school teacher, and after teaching in various parts of Ireland becomes a professor in 1874 at Blackrock College, then known as the French College. In 1877, he establishes his own Civil Service Academy, Cusack’s Academy, in Dublin which proves successful in preparing pupils for the civil service examinations.

A romantic nationalist, Cusack is also “reputed” to have been associated with the Fenian movement. He is active in the Gaelic revival as a member of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language which is founded in 1876, and later the Conradh na Gaeilge who in 1879 breaks away from the Society. Also in 1879, he meets Pat Nally, who is a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and a leading nationalist and athlete. He finds that Nally’s views on the influence of British landlordism on Irish athletics are the same as his. He recalls how both Nally and himself while walking through the Phoenix Park in Dublin seeing only a handful of people playing sports in the park so depressed them that they agreed it was time to “make an effort to preserve the physical strength of [their] race.” Nally organises a National Athletics Sports meeting in County Mayo in September 1879 which is a success, with Cusack organising a similar event which is open to ‘artisans’ in Dublin the following April.

On November 1, 1884, Cusack, together with Maurice Davin of Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, call a meeting in Hayes’ Commercial Hotel, Thurles, County Tipperary, and found the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Davin is elected president and Cusack becomes its first secretary. Later, Archbishop Thomas William Croke (May 28, 1824 – July 22, 1902), Archbishop of Cashel & Emly, Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell become patrons. Cusack also becomes involved in the Irish language movement, founding The Celtic Times, a weekly newspaper which focuses on “native games” and Irish culture.

Michael Cusack dies in Dublin at the age of 59 on November 27, 1906.


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Patrick Pearse Arrives in Ros Muc

patrick-pearse-cottagePatrick Pearse arrives in Ros Muc, County Galway on September 13, 1903 and takes up residence at his cottage in Inbhear.

Born in Dublin on November 10, 1879, Pearse joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in September 1913, becoming Director of Military Organisation of the Irish Volunteers in 1914 and is later co-opted into the IRB’s secretive Military Council, which infiltrates the Volunteers for the Easter Rising.

A writer and Irish language enthusiast long before he becomes a revolutionary, Pearse first comes to Ros Muc in 1903 as a 23-year-old handpicked by Conradh na Gaeilge to act as an Irish examiner.

Pearse develops a strong affinity with the area, buying land on Loch Eileabhrach in 1905, upon which he builds a cottage in 1909. Unusually for a professional at the time, he has it thatched in the style of poor country dwellings and on his regular visits between 1903 and 1915, spends time in the cabins of the poor, soaking up the folklore which finds its way into his writings.

Pearse has a rival for the affections of the locals in the shape of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Queen’s representative in Ireland. William Ward, 2nd Earl of Dudley also spends summers in the area, where he organises hunts with gentry and children’s fetes.

In response, Pearse organises an evening of Irish festivities for Ros Muc. Pearse gives scholarships to local gaeilgeoiri boys to his St. Enda’s School in Dublin.

Pearse’s last visit to the cottage is in 1915, when he composes the rousing oration for the funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. The following April, he goes one step further, declaring a Republic on the steps of the General Post Office (GPO) in Dublin.

After Pearse’s execution on May 3, 1916, his cottage passes to his mother Margaret. In 1921 it is burned down by the “Black and Tans” and Auxiliaries. Restored by Ó Conghaile and then again by Criostóir Mac Aonghusa, by 1943 Pearse’s sisters Senator Margaret Mary Pearse and Mary Brigid Pearse hand the cottage to the State.

Opened in 2016, a new visitor centre next to Pearse’s Cottage provides an introduction to the Irish language, Gaeltacht culture, and Pearse’s connection to Ros Muc.

(From: “Patrick Pearse’s cottage: a cultural visit to Ros Muc,” Darragh Murphy, The Irish Times, January 13, 2016)


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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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Birth of Fenian John O’Leary

john-o-learyJohn O’Leary, Irish republican and a leading Fenian, is born on July 23, 1830 in Tipperary, County Tipperary. He is imprisoned in England during the nineteenth century for his involvement in the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

O’Leary, born a Catholic, is educated at the local Protestant grammar school, The Abbey School, and later the Catholic Carlow College. He identifies with the views advocated by Thomas Davis and meets James Stephens in 1846.

He begins his studies in law at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1847, where, through the Grattan Club, he associates with Charles Gavan Duffy, James Fintan Lalor and Thomas Francis Meagher.

After the failure of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, O’Leary attempts to rescue the Young Ireland leaders from Clonmel Gaol, and is himself imprisoned for a week from September 8, 1849. He takes part in a further attempted uprising in Cashel on September 16, 1849, but this proves abortive.

O’Leary abandons his study of law at Trinity College because he is unwilling to take the oath of allegiance required of a barrister. He enrolls at Queen’s College, Cork in 1850, to study medicine, later moving to Queen’s College, Galway, then on to further studies at Meath Hospital in Dublin, in Paris and in London. In 1855, he visits Paris, where he becomes acquainted with Kevin Izod O’Doherty, John Martin and the American painter, James Abbott McNeill Whistler. He subsequently becomes financial manager of the newly formed Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and is joint editor of the IRB paper The Irish People.

On September 16, 1865, O’Leary is arrested and later tried on charges of high treason, eventually reduced to “treason felony.” He is sentenced to twenty years of penal servitude, of which five years are spent in English prisons, prior to his release and exile in January 1871. During his exile, he lives mainly in Paris, also visiting the United States, remains active in the IRB and its associated organisations, and writes many letters to newspapers and journals.

On the expiration of his 20-year prison term and therefore of the conditions associated with his release in 1885, O’Leary returns to Ireland. He and his sister, the poet Ellen O’Leary, both become important figures within Dublin cultural and nationalist circles, which include William Butler Yeats, Maud Gonne, Rose Kavanagh, Rosa Mulholland, George Sigerson, and Katharine Tynan. He also functions as an elder statesman of the separatist movement, being active in the Young Ireland Society, and acts as president of the Irish Transvaal Committee, which supports the Boer side in the Second Boer War.

John O’Leary dies at his residence in Dublin on the evening of March 16, 1907. He is referred to famously by W.B. Yeats in his poem September 1913: “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone/It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”

(Pictured: Painting of John O’Leary, a favorite subject of John Butler Yeats (1904). The National Gallery of Ireland owns three oil portraits of O’Leary.)


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Birth of John MacBride

john-macbrideMajor John MacBride, Irish republican executed by the British for his participation in the 1916 Easter Rising, is born in Westport, County Mayo on May 7, 1865.

MacBride is born to Patrick MacBride, a shopkeeper and trader, and the former Honoria Gill. He is educated at the Christian Brothers School in Westport and at St. Malachy’s College in Belfast. He studies medicine but gives it up and begins working with a chemist’s firm in Dublin.

MacBride joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and is associated with Michael Cusack in the early days of the Gaelic Athletic Association. He also joins the Celtic Literary Society through which he comes to know Arthur Griffith, who is to remain a friend and influence throughout his life. Beginning in 1893, he is termed a “dangerous nationalist” by the British government. In 1896, he travels to the United States on behalf of the IRB. Upon his return he emigrates to South Africa.

In the Second Boer War MacBride is instrumental in the raising of the Irish Transvaal Brigade and leads it into action against the British. When organised resistance collapses, he and the surviving members cross the border into Mozambique. After the war he marries Maud Gonne and they have a son, Seán MacBride, who is also to make a name for himself in Irish Politics. The marriage, however, is not a success and they go their separate ways. MacBride keeps up his associations with Republican activists but does not become personally involved other than making the odd speech in support of Ireland’s Cause.

After returning permanently from Paris to Dublin in 1905, MacBride joins other Irish nationalists in preparing for an Insurrection. Because he is so well known to the British, the leaders think it wise to keep him outside their secret military group planning a Rising. As a result, he happens to find himself in the midst of the Rising without notice.

MacBride is in Dublin early on Easter Monday morning, April 24, to meet his brother, Dr. Anthony MacBride, who is arriving from Westport to be married two days later. As MacBride walks up Grafton Street he sees Thomas MacDonagh in uniform and leading his troops. He offers his services and is appointed second-in-command at the Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, which is occupied and held through Easter Week until the order to surrender is received. As he is dressed in civilian clothes rather than a military uniform, he could likely have escaped without too much difficulty but rather he decides to go with his comrades into captivity.

Tried by court martial under the Defence of the Realm Act, MacBride is found guilty and sentenced to death. He is executed on May 5, 1916, two days before his forty-eighth birthday. Facing the British firing squad, MacBride refuses to be blindfolded saying, “I have looked down the muzzles of too many guns in the South African war to fear death and now please carry out your sentence.”

John MacBride is buried in the cemetery at Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin.


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Birth of Patrick Nally, Athlete & Member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 100Patrick William Nally, a member of the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and well known Connacht athlete from Balla, County Mayo, is born on March 13, 1857.

Nally is the eldest son and one of six brothers, of a prosperous farmer of “advanced nationalist” views. From an early age he is a Fenian, and by the late 1870s is a leading organiser of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Nally is also present at the founding meeting in August 1879, of the Land League of Mayo, later becoming the Irish National Land League. He is elected a joint secretary. By 1880, he has become a member of the IRB’s Supreme Council.

In 1879, Michael Cusack, credited with founding the Gaelic Athletic Association, meets Nally, who had in 1877 attempted to start a nationalist athletics association but it never got off the ground. Cusack finds that Nally’s views on the influence of British landlordism on Irish athletics are the same as his.

Cusack recalls how both Nally and himself while walking through the Phoenix Park in Dublin and seeing only a handful of people playing sports in the park so depressed them that they agree it is time to “make an effort to preserve the physical strength of our race.” Nally organises a National Athletics Sports meeting in County Mayo in September 1879 which is a success, with Cusack organising a similar event which is open to ‘artisans’ in Dublin the following April.

In 1881, Nally is sentenced to ten years imprisonment in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, for what becomes known as the “Crossmolina Conspiracy,” where he is reportedly subjected to harsh treatment. He dies in prison on November 8, 1891. His funeral is organised by James Boland, with whom he had conspired in Manchester.

The resultant Nally GAA Club in Dublin would be closely associated with working class nationalists and republicans during the 1890s and beyond. One of the stands in Croke Park is named after Nally, and is unique for being the only stand in the stadium named after a person who had no connection to the Gaelic Athletic Association.