The Clerkenwell bombing is the most infamous action carried out by the Fenians in mainland Britain. It results in a long-lived backlash that foments much hostility against the Irish community in Britain.
The events that lead up to the bombing start with the arrest in November 1867 of Ricard O’Sullivan Burke, a senior Fenian arms agent who planned the “prison-van escape” in Manchester a few months earlier. O’Sullivan-Burke is subsequently imprisoned on remand in the Middlesex House of Detention, Clerkenwell. On December 13, an attempt to rescue him is made by blowing a hole in the prison wall. The explosion is seriously misjudged. It demolishes not only a large section of the wall, but also a number of tenement houses opposite in Corporation Lane (now Corporation Row), killing 12 people and wounding up to 120 more.
The bombing has a traumatic effect on British working-class opinion. The radical, Charles Bradlaugh, condemns the incident in his newspaper, the National Reformer, as an act “calculated to destroy all sympathy, and to evoke the opposition of all classes.”
The day before the explosion, Prime MinisterBenjamin Disraeli bans all political demonstrations in London in an attempt to put a stop to the weekly meetings and marches that are being held in support of the Fenians. He fears that the ban might be challenged, but the explosion has the effect of turning public opinion in his favour.
Months earlier, Barrett had been arrested in Glasgow for illegally discharging a firearm and allegedly false evidence is used to implicate him in the Clerkenwell Prison explosion. In court, he produces witnesses who testify that he had been in Scotland on the date of the incident. The main case against him rests on the evidence of Patrick Mullany, a Dubliner known to have given false testimony before and whose price is a free passage to Australia, who tells the court that Barrett had informed him that he had carried out the explosion with an accomplice by the name of Murphy. After two hours of deliberation the jury pronounces Barrett guilty. On being asked if he has anything to say before sentence is passed, he delivers an emotional speech from the dock.
Until their transfer to the City of London Cemetery, Barrett’s remains lay for 35 years in a lime grave inside the walls of Newgate Prison. When the prison is demolished in 1903 his remains are taken to their present resting place. Today the grave is a place of Fenian pilgrimage and is marked by a small plaque.
After the explosion, the Prime Minister Disraeli advocates the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act 1862 in Great Britain, as is already the case in Ireland. Greater security measures are quickly introduced. Thousands of special constables are enrolled to aid the police and at Scotland Yard a special secret service department is established to meet the Fenian threat. Although a number of people are arrested and brought to trial, Barrett is the only one to receive the death sentence.
Within days of the explosion, the Liberal Party leader, William Ewart Gladstone, then in opposition, announces his concern about Irish Nationalist grievances and says that it is the duty of the British people to remove them. Later, he says that it is the Fenian action at Clerkenwell that turned his mind towards Home Rule. When Gladstone discovers at Hawarden later that year that Queen Victoria had invited him to form a government he famously states, “my mission is to pacify Ireland.”
Boland is the son of Irish Republican Brotherhood member James Boland and Kate Woods. He was active in GAA circles in early life, and referees the 1914 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final. He joins the IRB at the same time as his older brother Gerald in 1904, following in the footsteps of his father, uncle and probably grandfather. He is educated at the Synge Street CBS, but hads a personality clash with one of the brothers so he refuses to carry on his attendance at the school. He then goes to De la Salle College, County Laois, as a novice.
In the 1922 Irish general election, Boland is re-elected to the Dáil representing Mayo South–Roscommon South. Six weeks later, on July 31, he is shot by soldiers of the National Army when they attempt to arrest him at the Skerries Grand Hotel. Two officers enter his room and, although unarmed, he is shot and mortally wounded during a struggle.
Boland’s death affects Collins and possibly spurs him toward peace negotiations with Éamon de Valera.
Boland’s brother, Gerald Boland, is a prominent member of Fianna Fáil and later serves as Minister for Justice. His nephew, Kevin Boland, serves as a Minister until he resigns in solidarity with the two ministers, Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney, who are sacked from the government in May 1970 during the Arms Crisis. Kevin Boland’s resignation from Fianna Fáil and the subsequent loss of his seat marks the end of an era for the Boland political dynasty.
In the 1991 TV movie The Treaty, Boland is portrayed by Malcolm Douglas. In the 1996 film Michael Collins, he is portrayed by American actor Aidan Quinn. The film is criticised for fictionalising both Boland’s death and Collins’ life.
After the Anglo-Irish truce of July 1921, Cooney is appointed Officer Commanding (O/C) of the 1st Kerry Brigade, IRA, reorganising it and forming a flying column. Opposing the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, he does not immediately break with GHQ, who sends him to organise the 1st Eastern Division. Later in January 1922, the Chief of Staff, Eoin O’Duffy, asks him to become O/C of the 3rd Eastern Division, but later rescinds the appointment. In March 1922 he is appointed O/C of the 1st Eastern Division of the anti-Treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War.
That same year he is captured by Free State forces and interned in Mountjoy Prison, where he becomes O/C of the prisoners in C Wing. He accepts responsibility for an attempted escape bid on October 10, 1922, in which a fellow prisoner, Peadar Breslin, is killed and another man is wounded. After sojourns in Newbridge and Arbour Hill Prison, he is moved with the other leaders to Kilmainham Gaol, where he spends forty-one days on hunger strike. Removed to Harepark Camp, the Curragh, on January 1, 1924, he is among the last to be released on May 29, 1924.
Cooney succeeds Frank Aiken as Chief of Staff of the IRA on November 18, 1925. Central to the reorganisation scheme he puts in place is the need to secure American funds for the IRA and to combat Frank Aiken’s fundraising work in the United States since December 1925 on behalf of the embryo Fianna Fáil organisation. Receiving permission on April 21, 1926, he departs on a fund-raising trip to the United States, but returns to Ireland in October. He resigns as chief of staff in favour of Maurice Twomey, but retains his position as chairman of the IRA executive until November 21, 1927, when he obtains leave to complete his medical studies.
After internship in the Mater Hospital, Dublin, Cooney finds temporary employment in London, but remains in touch with GHQ. On September 27, 1929, he marries the German-educated Frances (‘Frank’) Brady, daughter of a wealthy Belfast linen family and former Cumann na mBan activist and hunger-striker. The marriage is not a success. Failing to secure employment due to police harassment and the loyalty test then in force, he and his wife are obliged to emigrate to London, where he practises as a GP, still maintaining his IRA links. Their only child, Seán, is born there in 1931. He returns to Ireland in August 1932, after Fianna Fáil’s accession to power.
An intimate friend of Maurice Twomey, who is still Chief of Staff, Cooney remains in the upper echelons of the IRA and attends its conventions. Signifying his standing in republican circles, he is chosen to unveil, inter alia, the Fenian memorial in Glasnevin Cemetery and the Seán Treacy plaque in Talbot Street, Dublin, and is a regular speaker at commemorations. In March 1940, he attempts to intercede with Éamon de Valera on behalf of hunger-striking republicans, and is later arrested, but released.
After the discovery of a German spy ring in the hospitals commission’s subsidiary, the Dublin Hospitals Bureau, Cooney is forced to resign in April 1942 on refusing to take a loyalty pledge to the state. He returns to private practice. He becomes active in the unsuccessful campaign to save Charlie Kerins, Chief of Staff, from being hanged in 1944. In anticipation of emigrating, he finally resigns from the IRA in 1944, though military and police surveillance continue until March 1945.
Appointed a part-time member of the hospitals commission by the inter-party government in September 1949 and in severe financial straits, Cooney emigrates alone to the United States on December 2, 1950, and never returns. While employed in a tuberculosissanatorium in New Jersey, he obtains by examination his licence to practise medicine in Maryland on January 14, 1954. Admitted a member of the American College of Chest Physicians, again by examination, on November 23, 1954, he secures, at the age of 57, his first ever permanent post in medicine, in a similar hospital in Pikesville, Maryland. His republican activities continue through Clan na Gael during his U.S. years, and he is a frequent speaker at commemorative events.
(Pictured: Liam Lynch with some of his Divisional Staff and Officers of the Brigades, including the 1st Southern Division, who attend as delegates to the Army Convention at the Mansion House, Dublin, on April 9, 1922. Cooney is first on the right in the 3rd row back.)
Lynch is born on November 9, 1893, in Barnagurraha, Anglesboro, County Limerick, the fifth child among six sons and a daughter of Jeremiah Lynch, farmer, and Mary Lynch (neé Kelly). The family is politically active. His father’s brother, John, had taken part in the Fenian Rising of 1867 and his mother had been joint secretary of the Ballylanders branch of the Ladies’ Land League.
Lynch attends Anglesboro national school (1898–1909). In 1910 he moves to Mitchelstown, County Cork, to take up a three-year apprenticeship in the hardware store of P. O’Neill on Baldwin Street. He remains there until the autumn of 1915. While in Mitchelstown he is a member of the Gaelic League and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He also joins the Irish Volunteers. In 1914, when that organisation splits, he does not immediately join the militant rump. He then moves to Fermoy, County Cork, where he works in the store of Messrs J. Barry & Sons Ltd. His move coincides with a period of inactivity as neither Volunteer faction is very active nor is he known. Consequently, he does not take part in the 1916 Easter Rising, but it is a turning point for him. On May 2, 1916, he watches as the Kent family are led through Fermoy, having been captured by British soldiers. Richard Kent dies from a wound sustained that day and Thomas Kent is executed a week later. Lynch becomes a committed Volunteer at this point.
Once committed, Lynch’s enthusiasm and aptitude ensures that he quickly attains positions of responsibility. From early 1917 he is first lieutenant in the small Fermoy company. In September 1917, the Irish Volunteers in east Cork are reorganised. Nine local companies are formed into the Fermoy battalion and he is elected adjutant. In April 1918, at the height of the conscription crisis, he briefly quits his job to concentrate on organising the Volunteers. In May he is lucky to escape arrest during the sweep that accompanies the “German plot.” When the immediate danger ends he returns to Barry & Sons.
In January 1919, at the beginning of the Irish War of Independence, the Volunteer organisation in Cork undergoes a major restructuring. Three brigades are established, and Lynch becomes brigade commandant of Cork No. 2. In April he visits Irish Republican Army GHQ in Dublin to discuss plans and to seek arms. It is a frustrating experience as the GHQ has few guns and are cautious about action. Throughout the summer of 1919 he presses GHQ to authorise attacks on British targets as a method of acquiring arms and to prevent boredom and stagnation setting in among his men. Finally, GHQ sanctions attacks if the primary aim is the capture of arms. In response, on September 7, 1919, twenty-five men from the Fermoy company, led by Lynch, ambush fourteen British soldiers on their way to service in the Wesleyan church in Fermoy. Fifteen rifles are captured, one soldier killed, and three wounded. Lynch is shot in the shoulder, probably by one of his own men. As a result, he has to leave his job and hides out in Waterford for a time. A series of arrests follow, among those is Lynch’s close friend, Michael Fitzgerald, who dies on hunger strike in Cork County Gaol in 1920.
Lynch spends the early months of 1920 at GHQ in Dublin. During this time, he is offered the position of deputy chief of staff, but turns it down, preferring to return to Cork. Although not an articulate speaker, he impresses those he meets. His organisational talents, attention to detail, ability to inspire, and intolerance for those who waste meetings endlessly discussing side issues, are noted. He has a low tolerance for politicians and at all times considers the military wing of the movement to be of primary importance. He is engaged to Bridie Keyes, but marriage is postponed pending a final settlement of hostilities.
On June 26, 1920, Lynch, Seán Moylan, and two colleagues capture Major-GeneralCuthbert Lucas while he is fishing on the Munster Blackwater. He gives a false name when he is arrested on August 12, 1920, at City Hall, Cork, with Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, and ten others. All but MacSwiney are released four days later. He then sets about organising a flying column within the brigade. Ernie O’Malley arrives from headquarters to train the men. This column achieves a major coup on September 28, 1920, when they briefly capture the British Army barracks at Mallow, leaving with a large booty of rifles, ammunition, and two machine guns. The British respond to this increase in activity and the war settles into a pattern of ambush and counter-ambush. The Mallow battalion suffers severe losses in February 1921 and Lynch himself narrowly escapes when four are killed during an encounter at Nadd in March 1921.
In early 1921 Lynch seeks to encourage greater cooperation between the various brigades in the south. Senior brigade officers meet on three occasions to discuss cooperation and a plan to import arms from Italy. The importation project fails, but the First Southern Division is formed on April 26, 1921, bringing eight brigades from Cork, Kerry, Waterford, and west Limerick together. He is elected divisional commandant, making him the most powerful officer outside GHQ. His influence is further increased by his appointment as Southern Divisional Centre and Supreme Council member of the clandestine Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in March 1921.
Lynch is wary when the truce is called in July 1921. He works hard to maintain order in his division and to achieve a state of readiness in case the negotiations fail. For him the Anglo-Irish Treaty is a failure. When the Supreme Council of the IRB meets on December 10, 1921, he is the only voice against the agreement. He is among the officers who insist that an army convention should be called to discuss the treaty, effectively asserting that the army no longer accepts a position subordinate to the Dáil. The army, he believes, is the army of the Republic, and no civilian body can order it to abandon the Republic. The provisional government tries to ban this convention, but it goes ahead on March 26, 1922, and elects an army executive. Lynch is elected Chief of Staff. Between March and June, he works hard to prevent a civil war. He believes unity can be maintained, even under the Treaty, if a republican constitution can be enacted. He also cooperates with Michael Collins in promoting Irish Republican Army (IRA) activity in Ulster. In his adherence to the idea of a republic, the practicalities of politics have little impact on his consciousness and he is dismissive of the popular support for the Treaty. He is horrified at the thought of civil war but fails to see that his position is leading almost inexorably in that direction. Distrusted as too moderate by Liam Mellows and Rory O’Connor, he is locked out of the Four Courts for a time.
When the Four Courts are attacked, Lynch immediately leaves his headquarters at the Clarence Hotel to travel south. He is briefly detained, before reaching Kingsbridge Station, and has a meeting with Eoin O’Duffy. He is disgusted when Free State figures later claim that he was released, having promised not to take arms against the government. The most plausible explanation of the incident appears to be that O’Duffy interpreted Lynch’s comments, merely indicating disappointment that a war had started, as constituting a statement of intent not to involve himself.
Lynch’s initial actions seem designed to avoid full-scale conflict. He does not order an attack on Dublin, nor does he attempt to seize Limerick. He chooses a containment strategy, seeking to hold a line from Limerick to Waterford for the republican forces. This fails, as the government sends troops in from the rear by sea. The republicans have no urban base when Lynch abandons Fermoy on August 11, 1922. He continues to meet individuals who seek a way to end the war, but intransigence has set in and he insists that armed struggle will only end with a republic or absolute defeat. As early as August many republicans believe the war is lost and urge a reassessment of tactics, but Lynch rejects all such calls. Operating from secret headquarters in Santry, he orders the shooting of pro-Treaty politicians in retaliation for the execution of republican prisoners.
Under war conditions it is impossible for the army executive to meet regularly, and this leaves Lynch in almost complete control. As the pro-surrender lobby grows within the republican forces, he delays a meeting of the executive, claiming with some justification that it is too dangerous. He leaves Santry and attends a meeting of the Southern Division Council in the last days of February 1923. Sixteen of the eighteen officers there tell him that the military position is hopeless. This forces the calling of an executive meeting on March 6, 1923. No agreement is reached. He strongly favours fighting on, but a motion from Tom Barry, calling for an immediate end to hostilities, is barely rejected. Another meeting is arranged for April 10. On that morning a group, including Lynch and Frank Aiken, suddenly find themselves in danger of capture in a farmhouse on the slopes of the Knockmealdown Mountains in County Tipperary. They flee and are pursued. During the chase Lynch is shot in the abdomen. It seems clear that he is shot by the pursuing Free State soldiers, although Irish historian Meda Ryan has considered the theory that he may have been shot by one of his own in order to remove the major stumbling block to surrender. His colleagues are forced to abandon him, and he is captured. Initially the Free State troops believe they have caught Éamon de Valera. He is taken first to a public house in Newcastle, County Tipperary, and then to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Clonmel, but dies from his wound at 8:45 p.m. that evening. His last request is to be buried beside Michael Fitzgerald in Kilcrumper Cemetery, Fermoy, County Cork. On hearing of Lynch’s death, Ernie O’Malley writes, “You who were a living force are now a battle cry.” O’Malley is wrong, however, as the peace faction within republicanism is strengthened by his death and Aiken orders the suspension of activities on April 27.
In 1935, a massive memorial, consisting of a 60-foot-tall round tower, guarded by four bronze Irish Wolfhounds, is erected at Goatenbridge, County Tipperary, near the site of his capture. It is unveiled on April 7, 1935. Separate annual commemorations are held at Goatenbridge and Kilcrumper. Three biographies have been written and the Liam Lynch memorial pipe band is based in his native Anglesboro. The Lynch family possess a substantial collection of private correspondence.
References to Stephens’s early life, according to one of his biographers, Desmond Ryan, are obscure and limited to Stephens’s own vague autobiographical recollections. He is born at Lilac Cottage, Blackmill Street, Kilkenny, County Kilkenny, on January 26, 1825 and spends his childhood there. No birth records have ever been located, but a baptismal record from St. Mary’s Parish is dated July 29, 1825. There is reason to believe that he is born out of wedlock in late July 1825. However, according to Stephens, his exact date of birth is January 26. He is educated at St. Kieran’s College, Kilkenny, for at least one quarter in 1838. He is later apprenticed to a civil engineer, and from 1844 onwards works for the Waterford–Limerick Railway Company.
When the Young Irelanders split from Daniel O’Connell‘s Repeal Association and found the Irish Confederation in January 1847, Stephens becomes involved in the activities of the Kilkenny Confederate clubs. After the government suspends habeas corpus and issues warrants of arrest against the Confederate leaders, William Smith O’Brien appears in Kilkenny on July 23, 1848, seeking support for a popular insurrection, and two days later Stephens joins him. For four days he follows O’Brien’s wanderings and takes part in all his encounters with government forces, including the affray at the home of Widow McCormack on July 29 when O’Brien’s followers besiege a party of policemen in a house near Ballingarry, County Tipperary. They are finally dispersed by gunfire and the arrival of reinforcements, thus ending O’Brien’s revolutionary efforts. Stephens reportedly receives two bullet wounds, but manages to hide and evade arrest.
Three days later, Stephens proceeds to Ballyneale, near Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, in search of John O’Mahony. He accompanies O’Mahony to meet Michael Doheny, and for six weeks Stephens and Doheny avoid arrest by roaming around the south of Ireland, an adventure that Doheny records in The Felon’s Track (1849). On September 12, Stephens is smuggled out of Ireland by the family of the Skibbereen attorney McCarthy Downing, and four days later manages to reach Paris. O’Mahony and Doheny join him shortly afterwards, although Doheny soon emigrates to the United States.
From their exile Stephens and O’Mahony watch the failure of the ’49 conspiracy of James Fintan Lalor and Philip Gray, and witness the barricades against Louis Napoleon’s coup d’état in 1851. Stephens later claims to have joined the French republican insurgents, but according to O’Mahony this is merely a frustrated intention. Equally without foundation is the rumour that Stephens and O’Mahony at this time join a republican secret society as a training ground for their future Irish enterprise.
Stephens remains in Paris from 1848 to 1855, supporting himself by teaching English. He attends Sorbonne University and has plans to obtain a professorship that never materialises. Towards the close of his exile, he is employed by the Le Moniteur Universel, for which he allegedly translates Charles Dickens‘s Martin Chuzzlewit. Late in 1855 he returns to Ireland and undertakes a series of tours throughout the island. He later magnifies the venture as “the 3,000 miles’ walk” and reformulates it as an attempt to measure the country’s nationalist temperature. However, his primary intention at the time is to collect information for a book he is planning to write. The following autumn he returns to Dublin, becomes tutor of French to the children of several well-to-do families including that of the Young Irelander John Blake Dillon, and joins the nationalist circle of Thomas Clarke Luby, Philip Gray, and other veterans of the ’49 conspiracy.
When Gray dies in January 1857, Stephens asks O’Mahony, then living in New York, to collect funds for a funeral monument. This evidence of nationalist activity, coupled with the prospect of “England’s difficulty” awakened by the recent Crimean War and the insurrection in India, give life to O’Mahony’s and Doheny’s Emmet Monument Association (EMA). That autumn the EMA sends an envoy to Ireland with a proposal for Stephens to prepare the country for the arrival of a military expedition. Stephens offers to organise 10,000 men in three months, provided he is given at least £80 a month and absolute authority over the enterprise. On March 17, 1858, Saint Patrick’s Day, he receives the first installment and his appointment as “chief executive” of the Irish movement. The same day he and his associates take an oath to make Ireland “an independent democratic republic.” The nameless secret society thereby inaugurated eventually becomes known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). It is organised in cells, each led by a “centre” with Stephens being known as the “head centre.”
The EMA’s failure to send a second installment prompts Stephens to travel to New York in October 1858. While in America he attempts, and fails, to engage the support of the Young Irelanders John Mitchel and Thomas Francis Meagher, but succeeds in establishing a solid partnership with Irish nationalists based in New York. Late in 1858 the surviving members of the EMA reorganise themselves into a modified replica of the IRB, and under John O’Mahony’s inspiration adopt the name of the Fenian Brotherhood (FB). Eventually the label “Fenian” comes to be applied to the members of both organisations. As part of the new arrangements, Stephens obtains a new appointment as head of the movement “at home and abroad.”
Despite Stephens’s success, his labours in America and the secrecy of his own activities in Ireland are almost spoiled in December by the arrest of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and other members of the Phoenix National and Literary Society of Skibbereen, which had been incorporated into the IRB the previous May. On his return from America in March 1859 Stephens takes refuge in Paris and delegates management of the organisation to Luby. He only returns to Dublin in April 1861 when O’Mahony, then on a tour of inspection, suggests establishing an executive council to share Stephens’s power. Stephens succeeds in frustrating this plan, but from the time of O’Mahony’s visit the tension between the two leaders never subsides.
In the autumn of 1861 Stephens takes lodgings on Charlemont Street at the house of John and Rossanna Hopper, owners of a small tailoring establishment, and soon falls in love with their daughter Jane, almost twenty years his junior. The two are married on January 24, 1864, at the church of SS Michael and John, Exchange Street. The marriage produces no children.
The first success for Stephens’s IRB comes on November 10, 1861, when the IRB-dominated National Brotherhood of Saint Patrick stages the funeral for the Young Irelander Terence MacManus after an intense tug-of-war with both the Catholic church and constitutional nationalism. Stephens plays a central role in promoting IRB control of the funeral arrangements and although the event lacks the mythical nationalist significance claimed by Fenian apologists, it serves to boost Fenian self-assertion and hasten the divorce between middle-class nationalist elites and a new militant republican working class which has different interests at stake in an independent Ireland.
Despite the McManus funeral success, the IRB continues to endure financial difficulties throughout 1862. In 1863, Stephens resolves to address these difficulties and consolidate the movement’s position by founding a newspaper. The Irish People is first issued on November 28, 1863. He contributes leading articles to its first three numbers, but finally abandons his literary efforts in favour of Luby, John O’Leary, and Charles J. Kickham, thereafter the paper’s leading writers and guiding spirits.
In the meantime, the relationship between Stephens and O’Mahony continues to deteriorate. In November 1863 O’Mahony has turned the tables and persuaded the FB to acknowledge Stephens merely as “its representative in Europe.” In March 1864 Stephens again travels to the United States in order to stimulate the flow of funds towards the IRB and regain some hold on the FB. As part of his new policies he makes the sensational announcement that 1865, at latest, is to be the movement’s “year of action.” After the end of the American Civil War in April 1865, Fenian activity increases spectacularly, and demobilised soldiers travel to Ireland. However, on September 15, 1865, the government takes action, suppresses The Irish People, and arrests most of Stephens’s closest collaborators, including Luby, O’Leary and O’Donovan Rossa. Stephens himself is arrested on November 11 but, in a daring operation that proves a propaganda coup for the Fenians, is rescued from Richmond Bridewell penitentiary thirteen days later and eventually makes his way to America via Britain and France. By the time he arrives in the United States, the FB has split into two “wings,” the partisans of John O’Mahony and those of William R. Roberts, the president of the Fenian “senate,” who advocate shifting military efforts towards invading Canada. The split ends Stephens’s already slender chances of launching a successful rising before the end of December, and he calls a postponement.
On February 17, 1866, the government suspends habeas corpus in Ireland and arrests multiply. Stephens braves the members’ impatience, calls a new postponement, and in May travels to New York in order to try and solve the American crisis in the IRB’s favour. He accepts O’Mahony’s resignation, takes control of his wing, and starts an intensive campaign of propaganda and fund-raising. Again, he proclaims 1866 as the “year of action,” but by December the movement is weaker than ever, and he tries to call a new postponement. This time his lieutenants, led by Col. Thomas J. Kelly, lose patience, depose him from leadership and prepare to launch the insurrection themselves. The result is the ill-fated Fenian Rising of March 5-6, 1867.
After his deposition, Stephens spends most of his remaining years in France, in dire financial distress, but still hoping against hope to regain his position at the head of the movement. However, the IRB is now under the control of the anti-Stephens supreme council, and the FB is quickly losing its influence to the newly emerged Clan na Gael. His reputation, always tainted by his controversial personality and autocratic management, had been ruined forever by the 1866 events and his repeated failure to order the rising. With the exception of a small core of diehard partisans, the majority of his former associates and followers have grown resentful of his leadership and are vehemently opposed to his return.
Apart from occasional English tutoring and a ruinous venture as a wine merchant that takes him to the United States from 1871 to 1874, Stephens’s post-Fenian years are mainly spent in poverty while awaiting the next opportunity to resume leadership of the IRB. In 1880, after a last unsuccessful trip to the United States and a crushing defeat by John Devoy and Clan na Gael, he gives up hope, returns to Paris, and settles down to earn a living as an occasional newspaper contributor. In 1885 he is expelled from France under the unfounded suspicion of involvement in dynamiting activities with his cousins Joseph and Patrick Casey and the journalist Eugene Davis. He then takes up residence in Brussels but is able to return to Paris two years later. Finally, through Charles Stewart Parnell‘s intervention in 1891, he is allowed to return to Ireland. He moves into a cottage in Sutton, near Howth, and settles into retirement. After his wife’s death in 1895 he moves to the house of his in-laws in Blackrock, County Dublin, where he dies on March 29, 1901. Two days later he is given a solemn nationalist funeral and is interred in Glasnevin Cemetery.
Stephens’s controversial historical reputation never accords him a comfortable place in the post-independence nationalist pantheon. His egotism and defects as a leader overshadow the credit he is given as a founder and organiser. Yet his notorious personality is arguably the key to his success and ultimate historical significance. His obsessive self-confidence and single-mindedness turn the EMA’s half-matured proposal into a solid partnership that inaugurates an enduring pattern of American involvement in Irish nationalism. At the same time, by impressing the IRB with his own assertiveness he enables it to break the tacit monopoly of the middle classes on Irish political life. By the time of his downfall, Irish republicanism has acquired a definite shape and a marginal but stable position in the Irish political scene.
Stephens’s name has been incorporated into Kilkenny local heritage in institutions as diverse as a swimming pool, a military barracks, and a hurling team. In 1967 a plaque is unveiled at the site of his childhood home on Blackmill Street. The main collections of his documents are the James Stephens papers, MSS 10491–2, in the National Library of Ireland, and the Michael Davitt papers addenda, MS 9659d, in Trinity College Dublin.
(From: “Stephens, James” by Marta Ramón, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, last revised March 2021)
The IRB is a small, secret, revolutionary body whose sole object is to “establish and maintain a free and independent Republican Government in Ireland.” Stephens is a Young Irelander and is a lieutenant to William Smith O’Brien at the Battle of Widow McCormack’s Cabbage Patch in Ballingary, County Tipperary, in August 1848. He is wounded three times and is smuggled onto a ship to England and then to France, where he spends the next eight years. Upon his return to Dublin in 1856, he determines to organise a revolutionary movement and that leads to the founding of the IRB.
The IRB becomes known as the Fenian movement in the 1850s and 1860s and is committed to the use of force to establish an independent Irish republic. After organising an abortive rising in March 1867, it suffers deep internal divisions over its leadership and strategy in both the United States and Ireland—whether it is best to strike at England, in Ireland or in Canada. The issue is resolved after a series of failed interventions in Canada in 1866, 1867 and 1871, and after bombings in England that do not lead Ireland closer to independence. The IRB is unable to exploit the weaknesses and divisions in the constitutional movement following Charles Stewart Parnell’s divorce scandal (1890–91).
The IRB is eventually rejuvenated in Ireland about 1907, led by Bulmer Hobson and Tom Clarke, thus preparing the way for all that follows.The governing body is the Supreme Council. Before 1916 this consists of eleven members, and after the 1917 reorganisation it contains fifteen members. When not in session, all powers of the Supreme Council, except for declaring war, devolve onto an executive of three: the president, secretary and treasurer.
The constitution provides for the establishment of a military council, subordinate to the Supreme Council. The seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic constitute the entire military council at the time. The constitution is dedicated to the use of force against England at any favourable opportunity, but this is to be a democratic decision: “The IRB shall await the decision of the Irish Nation as expressed by a majority of the Irish people as to the fit hour of inaugurating a war against England and shall, pending such an emergency, lend its support to every movement calculated to advance the cause of Irish independence, consistent with the preservation of its own integrity,” a clause adopted in 1873 in response to the controversies arising from the 1867 Fenian Rising.
The IRB plans the 1916 Easter Rising but the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army make it possible. The establishment of the Irish Volunteers gives the IRB the great opportunity to train and equip its members as a military body for the purpose of securing independence for Ireland by force of arms and securing the cooperation of all Irish military bodies in the accomplishment of its objectives. Numerically the IRB probably never exceeds 2,000 members, but they are all extremely loyal and well trained, and there is very tight security. The executions of 1916 just about wipe out the Supreme Council, and after the prisoners are released, the IRB has to reconstitute itself.
Following the Easter Rising some republicans—notably Éamon de Valera and Cathal Brugha—leave the organization, which they view as no longer necessary, since the Irish Volunteers now perform its function. The IRB, during the Irish War of Independence (1919-21), is under the control of Michael Collins, who is secretary, and subsequently president, of the Supreme Council. Volunteers such as Séumas Robinson say afterwards that the IRB by then is “moribund where not already dead,” but there is evidence that it is an important force during the war.
When the Anglo-Irish Treaty is signed on December 6, 1921, it is debated by the Supreme Council, which votes to accept it by eleven votes to four. Those on the Supreme Council who oppose the Treaty include former leader Harry Boland, Austin Stack and Liam Lynch. Anti-Treaty republicans like Ernie O’Malley, who fought during the Irish Civil War against the Treaty, sees the IRB as being used to undermine the Irish Republic. The IRB becomes quiescent during the Irish Civil War, which ends in May 1923, but it emerges again later that year as a faction within the National Army that supports Minister for Defence Richard Mulcahy against the “Old IRA,” which fought against the recruitment of ex-British Army personnel and the demobilization of old IRA men. This comes to a head with the Irish Army Mutiny of 1924, in the wake of which Mulcahy resigns and other IRB members of the army are dismissed by acting President of the Executive CouncilKevin O’Higgins. The IRB subsequently dissolves itself, although it is not known whether a formal decision is taken, or it simply ceases to function.
O’Hegarty is born Jeremiah Stephen Hegarty on December 26, 1892, in Lowertown, Skibbereen, County Cork, the eldest of seven children of Jeremiah Hegarty (1856–1934) and his wife Eileen (née Barry), both teachers. He is educated at the Christian Brothers school, St. Patrick’s Place, Cork, joins the Dublin civil service in 1910 and is posted to the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, acquiring invaluable administrative experience as private secretary to T. P. Gill, secretary of the department.
O’Hegarty is a member of the Keating branch of the Gaelic League and the closely associated Teeling circle of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). In 1913 he becomes secretary and stage manager of a troupe of Gaelic players, Na hAisteoirí, which includes several who later become prominent revolutionaries: Piaras Béaslaí, Gearóid O’Sullivan, Fionán Lynch, and Con Collins. As second lieutenant of F Company, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers, during the Easter Rising, he is in charge of barricades in Church Street, Mary Lane, Mary’s Abbey, and Jameson Distillery, an area which sees fierce fighting. Imprisoned in Knutsford (May 1-18), he is released in error and returns to his post in the civil service. On his return he is a key figure in the reorganisation of the Volunteers and IRB, becoming a member of the executive of the IRB’s supreme council along with Michael Collins and Seán Ó Murthuile. He also becomes a central figure in Kathleen Clarke‘s prisoner support group, the Irish Volunteer Dependents Fund, and when it amalgamates with the more moderate Irish National Aid Association to form the INA&VDF in August 1916, he helps to ensure that it is dominated by republicans.
O’Hegarty is very close to Michael Collins and Harry Boland and in 1918 this IRB triumvirate exercises considerable control in the nomination of Sinn Féin candidates for the 1918 Irish general election. In the same year he is dismissed from the civil service for refusing to take the oath of allegiance, but his administrative talents find ample outlet in the secretariat of the revolutionary Dáil and later in the service of the Irish Free State to such an extent that he has been called ‘the civil servant of the revolution’ and ‘the Grey Eminence of the Free State Government.’ As clerk of the First Dáil and secretary to the Dáil cabinet (1919–21), he is largely responsible for its success, organising meetings of the clandestine parliament and coordinating the work of various departments from his offices on the corner of O’Connell Street and Abbey Street and later in Middle Abbey Street. He is determined that the Dáil will demonstrate its worth by ‘functioning as any progressive government would be expected to function.’ He records the minutes and handles all correspondence of the Dáil cabinet. As the conduit through which the Dáil’s ministers communicate, his role is central to the effective operation of government on the run. The influence this gives him within the revolutionary movement is bolstered by his senior role within the IRB and the positions of military significance which he occupies. He is a member of the Volunteer Executive (Jun 1916–Nov 1921), Irish Republican Army (IRA) Director of Communications (Jul 1918–Mar 1920), and Director of Organisation (Mar 1920–Apr 1921). When convicted of illegal assembly and jailed in Mountjoy Prison (Nov 1919–Feb 1920), he immediately wields power within the prison, ordering Noel Lemass off a hunger strike.
O’Hegarty resigns his military duties in April 1921 to concentrate on his work in the Dáil secretariat and serves as secretary to the Irish delegation during the Anglo–Irish Treaty negotiations in London (Oct–Dec 1921). He is a vital voice for the Treaty within the IRB and is appointed secretary to the cabinet of the Provisional Government in 1922, participating in the unsuccessful army unification talks of May 1922. During the Irish Civil War, he is briefly seconded from his civil service post to serve as military governor of Mountjoy Prison (Jul-Aug 1922), where he threatens that prisoners who persist in leaning out of windows and talking to the public outside the prison will be shot. Peadar O’Donnell, who is a prisoner there at the time, remembers him as the focus of much “republican bitterness.” A member of the army council during the Irish Civil War, he serves as Director of Organisation (Jul–Dec 1922) and Director of Intelligence (Dec 1922–May 1923), leaving the army with the rank of lieutenant general on May 1, 1923, to resume his civil service career.
O’Hegarty is secretary to the Executive Council of the Irish Free State (1923–32) and principal private secretary to its president, W. T. Cosgrave. Again, he records the cabinet minutes and is the administrative pivot upon which government turns. He serves as secretary to numerous governmental delegations and is widely praised for his work in this role at the 1926 Imperial Conference and the 1930 Imperial Conference. In 1927 he goes to New York to represent the government at a hearing into the fate of republican funds in the United States. His career is the prime example of the influence of revolutionary veterans within the higher civil service in the early years of the state. After the change of government following the 1932 Irish general election, he is one of the very few senior civil servants who is effectively removed from his position. He is appointed to be a commissioner of public works, becoming chairman in 1949, a position he holds until his retirement in 1957. In 1939–40 he serves on the Economy Committee established by the government to advise on wartime spending, and in 1941 is a member of a tribunal of inquiry into public transport, which is principally concerned with the poor financial state of Great Southern Railways.
On April 27, 1922, with Michael Collins as his best man, O’Hegarty marries Claire Archer, daughter of Edward Archer, a post office telegraph inspector from Dublin, and Susan Archer (née Matthews). Her brother is William (Liam) Archer. They live at 9 Brendan Road, Donnybrook, Dublin.
O’Donoghue is born in Rathmore, County Kerry, on July 22, 1894, the son of farmer Patrick O’Donoghue and Margaret Cronin. He moves to Cork in 1910, where he works as an apprentice in the drapery trade.
The 1916 Easter Rising is a watershed in O’Donoghue’s life. In December 1916, he joins the Cork branch of the Irish Volunteers. In early 1917, he is elected unanimously First Lieutenant of the Cyclist Company and as a result devotes all his spare time to Volunteer work. He begins writing weekly for two years for TheIrish World newspaper. By May 1917, he is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and in October, Tomás Mac Curtain appoints him head of communications of the Cork Brigade. He replaces Pat Higgins as Brigade Adjutant in February 1917. He is a key organiser in the sensational jailbreak of Captain Donnchadh Mac Niallghuis on Armistice Day 1918 and takes personal responsibility for his protection. Michael Collins is the last officer from Volunteers General Headquarters to visit Cork shortly after Christmas 1919, until the truce in 1921.
O’Donoghue builds up an intelligence network and agents which includes his future wife, Josephine Marchment. She is head female clerk at the 6th Division Headquarters at Victoria Barracks, Cork, and passes on secret British Army correspondence to him. He recruits people to open letters, tap phone lines and intercept telegrams. The Irish Republican Army has 2,000 active members in Cork which are also used for intelligence gathering. By March 1920, after killing a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Inspector, he is on the run and serving full-time in the IRA. In November of that year, the Cork Brigade kills six British Army officers and executes five Cork civilians on suspicion of spying.
After two and a half years of fighting, a truce is agreed upon on July 11, 1921. When the Dáil approves the Anglo-Irish Treaty, in January 1922, the IRA splits into pro- and anti-Treaty camps. Over the coming months and after being elected onto the army’s executive as Adjutant General, O’Donoghue warns of the dangers of an Irish Civil War. In June 1922, he resigns from the army’s national executive and a month later, on July 3, 1922, from the army. Civil war does break out on June 28, 1922 between pro- and anti-Treaty factions, much to his dismay.
During the Irish Civil War, O’Donoghue remains neutral and tries to organise a truce to end the fighting. In December 1922, he forms a group called the “Neutral IRA”, along with Seán O’Hegarty, composed of pro-truce IRA men. He claims he has 20,000 members in this group. He campaigns for a month’s truce between the two sides, so that a political compromise could be reached. However, his efforts come to nothing and in March 1923, he winds up the “Neutral IRA,” judging that its objectives cannot be achieved. The Irish Civil War ends on May 24, 1923.
O’Donoghue serves as major in the Irish Army from 1939-1946. He forms a Supplementary Intelligence Service that is to remain behind enemy lines in the event of an invasion. He also teaches guerrilla warfare tactics to new army recruits.
O’Donoghue marries Josephine Brown (née Marchment) in April 1921 and they have four children. The couple also adopts two children from Josephine’s first marriage, including Reggie Brown, whom O’Donoghue kidnaps from his grandparents in Wales in 1920. He becomes a rate collector and remains outside politics.
In later years O’Donoghue becomes a respected historian. While in the army he edits An Cosantóir, the Irish Army’s magazine. He convinces Éamon de Valera to establish the Bureau of Military History to record personal accounts from the Irish War of Independence. He is a recording officer until 1948. His most famous work is his biography on Liam Lynch, entitled No Other Law.
O’Donoghue dies on December 18, 1967, and Tom Barry gives the graveside oration. His papers are in the National Library of Ireland (NLI) and his statement to the Bureau of Military History is in the Military Archives.
Mulcahy is second-in-command to Thomas Ashe in an encounter with the armed Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) at Ashbourne, County Meath, during the 1916 Easter Rising, one of the few stand-out victories won by republicans in that week, and generally credited to Mulcahy’s grasp of tactics. In his book on the Rising, Charles Townshend principally credits Mulcahy with the defeat of the RIC at Ashbourne, for conceiving and leading a flanking movement on the RIC column that had engaged with the Irish Volunteers. Arrested after the Rising, he is interned at Knutsford and at the Frongoch internment camp in Wales until his release on December 24, 1916.
Mulcahy supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921. Archive film shows that Mulcahy, as Minister of Defence, is the Irish officer who raises the Irish tricolour at the first hand-over of a British barracks to the National Army in January 1922. He is defence minister in the Provisional Government on its creation and succeeds Collins, after the latter’s assassination, as Commander-in-Chief of the Provisional Government’s forces during the subsequent Irish Civil War.
Mulcahy earns notoriety through his order that anti-Treaty activists captured carrying arms are liable for execution. A total of 77 anti-Treaty prisoners are executed by the Provisional Government. He serves as Minister for Defence in the new Free State government from January 1924 until March 1924, but resigns in protest because of the sacking of the Army Council after criticism by the Executive Council over the handling of the “Army Mutiny,” when some National Army War of Independence officers almost revolt after he demobilises many of them at the end of the Irish Civil War. He re-enters the cabinet as Minister for Local Government and Public Health in 1927.
Following the 1948 Irish general election Mulcahy is elected for Tipperary South, but the dominant Fianna Fáil party finishes six seats short of a majority. However, it is 37 seats ahead of Fine Gael, and conventional wisdom suggests that Fianna Fáil is the only party that can possibly form a government. Just as negotiations get underway, however, Mulcahy realises that if Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the National Labour Party, Clann na Poblachta and Clann na Talmhan band together, they would have only one seat fewer than Fianna Fáil and, if they can get support from seven independents, they will be able to form a government. He plays a leading role in persuading the other parties to put aside their differences and join forces to consign the then Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Éamon de Valera, to the opposition benches.
Mulcahy initially seems set to become Taoiseach in a coalition government. However, he is not acceptable to Clann na Poblachta’s leader, Seán MacBride. Many Irish republicans had never forgiven him for his role in the Irish Civil War executions carried out under the Cosgrave government in the 1920s. Consequently, MacBride lets it be known that he and his party will not serve under Mulcahy. Without Clann na Poblachta, the other parties would have 57 seats between them — 17 seats short of a majority in the 147-seat Dáil. According to Mulcahy, the suggestion that another person serve as Taoiseach comes from Labour leader William Norton. He steps aside and encourages his party colleague John A. Costello, a former Attorney General of Ireland, to become the parliamentary leader of Fine Gael and the coalition’s candidate for Taoiseach. For the next decade, Costello serves as the party’s parliamentary leader while Mulcahy remained the nominal leader of the party.
Mulcahy goes on to serve as Minister for Education under Costello from 1948 until 1951. Another coalition government comes to power at the 1954 Irish general election, with Mulcahy once again stepping aside to become Minister for Education in the Second Inter-Party Government. The government falls in 1957, but he remains as Fine Gael leader until October 1959. In October the following year, he tells his Tipperary constituents that he does not intend to contest the next election.
Stack, as part of his role as Minister for Home Affairs, is widely credited with the creation and administration of the Dáil Courts. These are courts run by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in parallel and opposition to the judicial system being run by the British government. The IRA and Sinn Féin are highly successful in both getting the civilian population of Ireland to use the courts and accept their rulings. The success of this initiative gives Sinn Féin a large boost in legitimacy and supports their goals in creating a “counter-state” within Ireland as part of their overarching goals in the Irish War of Independence.