seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Suffragist Winifred Carney

winifred-carneyMaria Winifred Carney, also known as Winnie Carney, suffragist, trade unionist and Irish independence activist, is born into a lower-middle class Catholic family in Bangor, County Down on December 4, 1887. Her father is a Protestant who leaves the family. Her mother and six siblings move to Falls Road in Belfast when she is a child.

Carney is educated at St. Patrick’s Christian Brothers School in Donegall Street in Belfast, later teaching at the school. She enrolls at Hughes Commercial Academy around 1910, where she qualifies as a secretary and shorthand typist, one of the first women in Belfast to do so. However, from the start she is looking towards doing more than just secretarial work.

In 1912 Carney is in charge of the women’s section of the Northern Ireland Textile Workers’ Union in Belfast, which she founds with Delia Larkin in 1912. During this period she meets James Connolly and becomes his personal secretary. She becomes Connolly’s friend and confidant as they work together to improve the conditions for female labourers in Belfast. Carney then joins Cumann na mBan, the women’s auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers, and attends its first meeting in 1914.

Carney is present with Connolly in Dublin‘s General Post Office (GPO) during the Easter Rising in 1916. She is the only woman present during the initial occupation of the building. While not a combatant, she is given the rank of adjutant and is among the final group to leave the GPO. After Connolly is wounded, she refuses to leave his side despite direct orders from Patrick Pearse and Connolly. She leaves the GPO with the rest of the rebels when the building becomes engulfed in flames. They make their new headquarters in nearby Moore Street before Pearse surrenders.

After her capture, Carney is held in Kilmainham Gaol before being moved to Mountjoy Prison and finally to an English prison. By August 1916 she is imprisoned in HM Prison Aylesbury alongside Nell Ryan and Helena Molony. The three request that their internee status be revoked so that they could be held as normal prisoners with Countess Markievicz. Their request is denied, however Carney and Molony are released two days before Christmas 1916.

Carney is a delegate at the 1917 Belfast Cumann na mBan convention. She stands for Parliament as a Sinn Féin candidate for Belfast Victoria in the 1918 General Election but loses to the Labour Unionists. Following her defeat, she decides to continue her work at the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union until 1928. By 1924 she has become a member of the Labour Party. In the 1930s she joins the Socialist Party of Northern Ireland.

Following the Irish Civil War, Carney becomes much more disillusioned with politics. She is very critical and outspoken of Éamon de Valera and his governments.

In 1928 she marries George McBride, a Protestant Orangeman and former member of the Ulster Volunteers. Ironically, the formation of the Ulster Volunteers prompts the formation of the Irish Volunteers, of which Carney was a member. She alienates anyone in her life that does not support her marriage to McBride.

A number of serious health problems limit Carney’s political activities in the late 1930s. She dies in Belfast on November 21, 1943, and is buried in Milltown Cemetery. Her resting place is located years later and a headstone is erected by the National Graves Association, Belfast. Because she married a Protestant and former Orangeman, she is not allowed to have his name on her gravestone due to the religious differences.

In 2013, the Seventieth Anniversary of Carney’s death is remembered by the Socialist Republican Party. Almost one hundred people attend as a short parade follows, marking and commemorating the work she did for the cause. She is placed in high esteem among the other hundreds of radical women, who stand up for what they believe in, regardless of the consequences they face.


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Founding of the Irish Women’s Franchise League

irish-womens-franchise-leagueThe Irish Women’s Franchise League (IWFL), an organisation for women’s suffrage, is established in Dublin on November 4, 1908. Its founder members include Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and James H. Cousins. Thomas MacDonagh is also a member. The IWFL has 1,000 members by 1912 but only about fifty of these are active.

In the early 20th century, the Irish Parliamentary Party under John Redmond and his deputy John Dillon is opposed to votes for women, as is the British prime minister, H. H. Asquith.

In June 1912, after a meeting of a number of women’s organisations, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and Margaret Cousins with six other members of the IWFL smash government windows in the General Post Office (GPO) and other government buildings. They are arrested, charged, and jailed. The following month Asquith makes a visit to Dublin to address a meeting in the Theatre Royal. Frank Sheehy-Skeffington manages to gain entrance and demands votes for women before being thrown out. Meanwhile Asquith’s carriage is attacked by British suffragists Mary Leigh and Gladys Evans. In that attack John Redmond is injured. Leigh and Evans go on hunger strike in Mountjoy Gaol, and are joined by the imprisoned Irish IWFL members in solidarity.

In March 1913 a bust of John Redmond in the Royal Hibernian Academy is defaced by a suffragist protesting against the failure of the Irish Parliamentary Party to support a Women’s Franchise Bill in the House of Commons. In contrast, as a mark of solidarity with the women, James Connolly travels from Belfast to Dublin to speak at one of the IWFL’s weekly meetings which is held in the Phoenix Park, and members of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) provide protection and offer escorts to women as they leave the meetings.

Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington loses her teaching job in 1913 when she is arrested and put in prison for three months after throwing stones at Dublin Castle. While in jail she starts a hunger strike but is released under the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge of Ill Health) Act 1913 and is soon rearrested.

The league keeps a neutral stance on Home Rule, but is opposed to World War I. After the killing of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington by a British officer in 1916, it supports Sinn Féin.

The Irish Women’s Franchise League publishes a paper, The Irish Citizen, from 1912 to 1920. The paper is edited originally by James H. Cousins.


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The Munitions Strike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Birth of William X. O’Brien, Politician & Trade Unionist

william-x-obrienWilliam X. O’Brien, politician and trade unionist, is born on January 23, 1881 in Clonakilty, County Cork. He is christened “John William.”

O’Brien moves with his family to Dublin in 1897, and quickly becomes involved in the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP). He is described as “a very significant figure in the ISRP” by ISRP historian David Lynch. He is a member of the Socialist Party of Ireland, serving on its executive.

A close friend and associate of James Connolly, O’Brien helps establish the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) in 1909, and is instrumental in the Dublin lock-out strike in 1913.

A member of the Irish Neutrality League and Anti-Conscription Committee during World War I, O’Brien is interned on several occasions by the Dublin Castle government. During one of these instances, he stands in the 1920 Stockport by-election, but is refused a release to campaign in it.

With the formation of the Irish Free State, O’Brien is elected as Teachta Dála (TD) for Dublin South at the 1922 general election, and again for Tipperary in June 1927 and again in 1937.

An important figure in the Labour Party in Ireland in its formative days, O’Brien resists James Larkin‘s attempt to gain control of the Party on release from prison. Taking Larkin to court over his occupation of ITGWU headquarters, the Larkin-O’Brien feud results in a split within the labour and trade union movements, and the formation of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

In 1930, O’Brien seeks to have Leon Trotsky granted asylum in Ireland, but the head of the Free State government, W. T. Cosgrave, refuses to allow it.

Active in politics and the trade union movement into his 60s, O’Brien retires in 1946 and dies on October 31, 1968.


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Execution of D.I. Gilbert Potter, R.I.C.

gilbert-norman-potterGilbert Norman Potter, a District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary, is executed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 27, 1921 in reprisal for the British execution of Irish republican Thomas Traynor.

Born in Dromahair, County Leitrim on July 10, 1887, Potter receives his commission as District Inspector on April 27, 1901 having completed his cadetship at the Depot, Phoenix Park, Dublin. His first assignment is to Castlepollard, County Westmeath. During the 1909 ITGWU strike in Cork, he is temporarily posted there from Dublin and is also involved in policing the August 14 marches in Portadown. Having had charge of No. 4 Company at the Depot, he is assigned to Cahir in 1912.

On April 23, 1921 District Inspector Potter is captured by the 3rd Tipperary Brigade, IRA, following the Hyland’s Cross Ambush. This occurs near Curraghcloney, close to the village of Ballylooby. The ambush party is initially made up of a combination of the 1st and 2nd Flying Columns 3rd Tipperary Brigade. This is the largest force assembled to date by the Tipperary IRA in anticipation of a major battle. However, the convoy of military lorries that is expected never materialises. Dan Breen and Con Moloney return to Battalion Headquarters, while Seán Hogan‘s Column withdraws northward in the direction of the Galtee Mountains.

As Dinny Lacey‘s No.1 Column prepares to leave towards the south, a small party of British soldiers accompanying two horse-drawn carts unexpectedly approaches from Clogheen and are immediately fired upon. Amid some confusion Lacey’s scattered men withdraw southwards towards the Knockmealdown Mountains. One British soldier, Frank Edward Conday, is fatally wounded and two others from the relieving party are wounded.

By chance, Potter, who is returning by car from police duties at Ballyporeen, drives into a section of the withdrawing No.1 Column. Although in civilian attire, he is recognised by one of the IRA Volunteers and taken prisoner. As part of a new strategy, he is held as a hostage for the safe release of Thomas Traynor, an IRA volunteer and father of ten young children, then under sentence of death at Mountjoy Gaol. The IRA offers to release Potter in exchange for Traynor’s release. Traynor is executed. Traynor has since been honoured by the Irish state as one of “The Forgotten Ten.”

The Column, under sporadic fire from soldiers, alerted at the nearby Clogheen barracks, follow the contours of the mountains to the village of Newcastle. Losing their pursuers, they stay for a period of time at the townland of Glasha. Here Potter is detained in an out-building of a farm which is regularly used by the IRA as a safe house. From there the party is guided into the Nire Valley by a contingent of local Waterford Volunteers and on to the Comeragh Mountains.

Accounts from Rathgormack, County Waterford suggest he is kept for at least one night at a nearby Ringfort before being taken down the hill to a field then owned by Power’s of Munsboro, where he meets his ultimate fate. At 7:00 PM, on April 27, following news of Traynor’s execution by hanging, he is shot to death, and hastily buried in a shallow grave on the banks of the River Clodiagh. A diary he kept during his period of captivity and some personal effects and farewell letters, are returned anonymously to his wife. It is the first confirmation she has that he has been killed. The artifacts are later lost when his son’s ship is torpedoed in 1942, during World War II.

(Pictured: Photo of District Inspector Gilbert Potter R.I.C. that appeared in the Press during his time in captivity)


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Formation of the Irish Citizen Army

The Irish Citizen Army (ICA) is formed on November 23, 1913, at the height of the Dublin Lockout. Its purpose is to enable the locked-out men to defend themselves in clashes with the Dublin Metropolitan Police and to counteract the demoralizing effects of unemployment by providing discipline, cohesion and purpose. The idea of forming a force apparently is first formally proposed in 1913 by Captain James Robert “Jack” White, an ex-army officer from County Antrim, who had been educated at Winchester College and Royal Military College, Sandhurst. During a speech in August, James Larkin had already suggested that the workers form a force. He publicly repeats this instruction on November 13. James Connolly likewise urges the men to train “as they are doing in Ulster.” Two weeks later drilling begins. According to the ICA constitution, its members are to “work for an Irish republic and for the emancipation of labour.” Larkin is anxious that those who enlist should not only espouse these principles but also be members of unions recognised by the Irish Trades Union Congress.

Despite competition from the Irish Volunteers, which launches on November 25, 1913, ICA membership quickly surpasses 1,000. However, after the dispute is over in January 1914 and the men return to work, the “army” all but disappears. But it is Connolly above all who, after his appointment as its commandant and as leader of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, rescues it from terminal decline and welds it into a potent force and potential weapon for his own use. He determines its structure, vets its officers and imposes a rigid discipline. He also demands an ideological commitment to revolution and the goal of an independent Irish socialist republic. The force’s guiding principle is that “the ownership of Ireland, moral and material, is vested by right in the people of Ireland.” Its membership remains small but it is otherwise superior to the much larger Irish Volunteers in its unity of purpose, lack of factional and ideological division and in the quality of its training.

After the outbreak of World War I, Connolly has become increasingly committed to fomenting an insurrection in Ireland. This is reflected in his military preparations with the ICA. He uses its headquarters, Liberty Hall, as his base. Fearing he might act on his own, and recognising the merits of collaboration, the Irish Republican Brotherhood Military Council informs him of their own clandestine plans for a rising and an agreement is reached.

During Easter week of 1916, 219 ICA men fight alongside over 1,300 from the Irish Volunteers. As the appointed leader of both forces in Dublin, Connolly skillfully ensures that the ideological and social divisions and personality clashes, which have hitherto blighted their relationship, are largely overcome. ICA forces are mainly concentrated at the General Post Office (GPO), the College of Surgeons and Dublin’s City Hall. They win volunteer admiration for their professionalism, dedication, and ruthlessness. Two of their leaders are subsequently executed – Connolly and Michael Mallin, the ICA Chief of Staff. Constance Markievicz, Mallin`s second-in command, is reprieved. Others are imprisoned or interned. The ICA is not revived after the insurrection. The new leadership of the ITGWU focuses instead on building up the union, safeguarding members’ wages and improving working conditions.


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Birth of James Connolly, Republican & Socialist Leader

James Connolly, Irish republican and socialist leader, is born to Irish-born parents in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh, Scotland, on June 5, 1868. He spoke with a Scottish accent throughout his life.

Connolly has an education up to the age of about ten in the local Catholic primary school. He then leaves and works in labouring jobs. Due to economic difficulties, he joins the British Army at age 14, falsifying his age and giving his name as Reid. He serves in Ireland with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Scots Regiment for nearly seven years, during a turbulent period in rural areas known as the Land War.

Connolly develops a deep hatred for the British Army that lasts his entire life. Upon hearing that his regiment is being transferred to India, he deserts. He meets a young woman by the name of Lillie Reynolds and they marry in April 1890, settling in Edinburgh. There, Connolly begins to get involved in the Scottish Socialist Federation, but with a young family to support, he needs a way to provide for them. He briefly establishes a cobbler‘s shop in 1895, but this fails after a few months.

By 1892 Connolly is involved in the Scottish Socialist Federation, acting as its secretary from 1895. During this time, he becomes involved with the Independent Labour Party which Keir Hardie had formed in 1893.

Connolly and his family move to Dublin, where he takes up the position of full-time secretary for the Dublin Socialist Club. At his instigation, the club quickly evolved into the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP). The ISRP is regarded by many Irish historians as a party of pivotal importance in the early history of Irish socialism and republicanism.

While active as a socialist in Great Britain, Connolly is the founding editor of The Socialist newspaper and is among the founders of the Socialist Labour Party which splits from the Social Democratic Federation in 1903.

A combination of frustration with the progress of the ISRP and economic necessity causes Connolly to emigrate to the United States in September 1903. While in America he was a member of the Socialist Labor Party of America (1906), the Socialist Party of America (1909) and the Industrial Workers of the World, and founded the Irish Socialist Federation in New York, 1907.

On his return to Ireland in 1910 he is right-hand man to fellow-syndicalist James Larkin in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. In 1913, in response to the Great Dublin Lockout, he, along with an ex-British officer, Jack White, found the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), an armed and well-trained body of labour men whose aim is to defend workers and strikers, particularly from the frequent brutality of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. He also founds the Irish Labour Party as the political wing of the Irish Trade Union Congress in 1912 and is a member of its National Executive.

When the Easter Rising begins on April 24, 1916, Connolly is Commandant of the Dublin Brigade. As the Dublin Brigade has the most substantial role in the rising, he is de facto commander-in-chief. His leadership in the Easter Rising is considered formidable. Michael Collins says of Connolly that he “would have followed him through hell.”

Connolly is sentenced to death by firing squad for his part in the rising. On May 12, 1916 he is taken by military ambulance to Royal Hospital Kilmainham, across the road from Kilmainham Gaol, and from there taken to the gaol, where he is to be executed.

Connolly has been so badly injured from the fighting that he is unable to stand before the firing squad. He is carried to a prison courtyard on a stretcher. Instead of being marched to the same spot where the others had been executed, at the far end of the execution yard, he is tied to a chair and then shot.

His body, along with those of the other leaders, is put in a mass grave without a coffin. The executions of the rebel leaders deeply angers the majority of the Irish population, most of whom had shown no support during the rebellion. It is Connolly’s execution that causes the most controversy. The executions are not well received, even throughout Britain, and draw unwanted attention from the United States, which the British Government is seeking to bring into the war in Europe. Prime Minister H. H. Asquith orders that no more executions are to take place, an exception being that of Roger Casement as he has not yet been tried.