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


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Execution of Irish Republican Liam Mellows

liam-mellowsLiam Mellows, Irish republican and Sinn Féin politician, is executed by firing squad by Free State forces on December 8, 1922, in reprisal for the shooting of Teachta Dála (TD) Seán Hales.

Mellows is born at Hartshead Military Barracks, Ashton-Under-Lyne, Lancashire, England, to William Joseph Mellows, a British Army non-commissioned officer, and Sarah Jordan, of Inch, County Wexford. His family moves to 10 Annadale Avenue, Fairview, Dublin, in February 1895 when Sergeant Mellows is transferred there, however Liam remains in Wexford with his grandfather Patrick Jordan due to ill health. He attends the military school in Wellington Barracks in Cork and the Portobello garrison school in Dublin, but ultimately refuses a military career much to his father’s disappointment, instead working as a clerk in several Dublin firms, including the Junior Army & Navy Stores on D’Olier Street .

A nationalist from an early age, Mellows approaches Thomas Clarke, who recruits him to Fianna Éireann, an organisation of young republicans.

Mellows is introduced to socialism when he meets James Connolly at Countess Markiewicz’s residence, recuperating after his hunger strike. He is active in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and is a founder member of the Irish Volunteers , being brought onto its Organising Committee to strengthen the Fianna representation. He is arrested and jailed on several occasions under the Defence of the Realm Act. Eventually escaping from Reading Gaol, he returns to Ireland to command the “Western Division” of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Easter Rising of 1916.

Mellows leads roughly 700 Volunteers in abortive attacks on Royal Irish Constabulary
stations at Oranmore and Clarinbridge in County Galway and takes over the town of Athenry. However, his men are very badly armed and supplied and they disperse after a week, when British troops and the cruiser HMS Gloucester are sent west to attack them.

After this insurrection fails, Mellows escapes to the United States, where he is arrested and detained without trial in The Tombs in Lower Manhattan, New York, on a charge of attempting to aid the German side in World War I. After his release in 1918, he works with John Devoy and helps to organise Éamon de Valera’s fund raising visit to America in 1919–1920.

Mellows returns to Ireland to become Irish Republican Army “Director of Supplies” during the Irish War of Independence, responsible for buying arms. At the 1918 general election of December, he is elected to the First Dáil as a Sinn Féin candidate for both East Galway and for North Meath. He considers the Anglo-Irish Treaty as signed to be a betrayal of the Irish Republic. A conference of 9 TDs is deputed to meet privately on January 5, 1922 to resolve the dispute and to achieve a unified front by compromise. The four other anti-Treaty TDs say there is agreement but Mellows does not, and is seen thereafter by pro-Treaty TDs as one of their most implacable opponents. The following day the Dáil votes to approve the Treaty by a majority of 64 to 57.

Mellows is one of the more strident TDs on the approach to the Irish Civil War. In June 1922, he and fellow republicans Rory O’Connor, Joe McKelvey and Richard Barrett, among others, enters the Four Courts, which has been occupied by anti-Treaty forces since April. However, they are bombarded by pro-Treaty Free State forces and surrender after two days. Mellows has a chance to escape along with Ernie O’Malley, but does not take it. Imprisoned in Mountjoy Gaol, Mellows, O’Connor, McKelvey and Barrett are executed by firing squad on December 8, 1922, in reprisal for the shooting of TD Seán Hales. Mellows is buried in Castletown cemetery, County Wexford, a few miles from Arklow. An annual commemoration ceremony is held at his grave site, in which a wreath is laid by a member of the Liam Mellows Commemoration committee.

Mellows is commemorated by statues in Oranmore and Eyre Square in Galway, in the official name of the Irish Defence Forces army barracks at Renmore and in the naming of Mellows Bridge in Dublin. Mellows Avenue in Arklow is named in his honour. He is also commemorated in the names of two hurling clubs, one in Galway and one in Wexford, and by Unidare RFC in Ballymun and their “Liam Mellows Perpetual Cup.”

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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 Irish Republican Army Officer Liam Lynch

Liam Lynch, officer in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence and the commanding general of the Irish Republican Army during the Irish Civil War, is born in the townland of Barnagurraha, County Limerick, on November 9, 1893.

In 1910, at the age of 17, he starts an apprenticeship in O’Neill’s hardware trade in Mitchelstown, where he joins the Gaelic League and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Later he works at Barry’s Timber Merchants in Fermoy. In the aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising, he witnesses the shooting and arrest of David, Thomas and Richard Kent of Bawnard House by the Royal Irish Constabulary. After this, he determines to dedicate his life to Irish republicanism. In 1917 he is elected First Lieutenant of the Irish Volunteer Company, which resides in Fermoy.

In Cork in 1919, Lynch re-organises the Irish Volunteers, the paramilitary organisation that becomes the Irish Republican Army (IRA), becoming commandant of the Cork No. 2 Brigade of the IRA during the guerrilla Irish War of Independence. He is captured, along with the other officers of the Cork No. 2 Brigade, in a British raid on Cork City Hall in August 1920. He provides a false name and is released three days later. In September 1920, he and Ernie O’Malley command a force that takes the British Army barracks at Mallow. The arms in the barracks are seized and the building is partially burned. In April 1921, the IRA is re-organised into divisions based on regions. Lynch’s reputation is such that he is made commander of the 1st Southern Division.

The war formally ends with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty between the Irish negotiating team and the British government in December 1921. Lynch is opposed to the Treaty, on the ground that it disestablishes the Irish Republic proclaimed in 1916 in favour of Dominion status for Ireland within the British Empire. He becomes Chief of Staff of the IRA in March 1922, much of which is also against the Treaty.

Although Lynch opposes the seizure of the Four Courts in Dublin by a group of hardline republicans, he joins its garrison in June 1922 when it is attacked by the newly formed National Army. This marks the beginning of the Irish Civil War. The ‘Munster Republic’ falls in August 1922, when Free State troops land by sea in Cork and Kerry. The Anti-Treaty forces then disperse and pursue guerrilla tactics.

Lynch contributes to the growing bitterness of the war by issuing what are known as the “orders of frightfulness” against the Provisional government on November 30, 1922. This General Order sanctions the killing of Free State Teachta Dála (TDs) and Senators, as well as certain judges and newspaper editors in reprisal for the Free State’s killing of captured republicans. Lynch is heavily criticised by some republicans for his failure to co-ordinate their war effort and for letting the conflict peter out into inconclusive guerrilla warfare. Lynch makes unsuccessful efforts to import mountain artillery from Germany to turn the tide of the war.

In March 1923, the Anti-Treaty IRA Army Executive meets in a remote location in the Nire Valley. Several members of the executive propose ending the civil war. However, Lynch opposes them and narrowly carries a vote to continue the war.

On April 10, 1923, a National Army unit is seen approaching Lynch’s secret headquarters in the Knockmealdown Mountains. Lynch is carrying important papers that could not fall into enemy hands, so he and his six comrades begin a strategic retreat. To their surprise, they run into another unit of 50 soldiers approaching from the opposite side. Lynch is hit by rifle fire from the road at the foot of the hill. Knowing the value of the papers they carry, he orders his men to leave him behind.

When the soldiers finally reach Lynch, they initially believe him to be Éamon de Valera, but he informs them, “I am Liam Lynch, Chief-of-Staff of the Irish Republican Army. Get me a priest and doctor, I’m dying.” He is carried on an improvised stretcher manufactured from guns to “Nugents” pub in Newcastle, at the foot of the mountains. He is later brought to the hospital in Clonmel, and dies that evening. He is laid to rest two days later at Kilcrumper Cemetery, near Fermoy, County Cork.


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Death of Hunger Striker Thomas Patrick Ashe

Thomas Patrick Ashe, a member of the Gaelic League, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and a founding member of the Irish Volunteers, dies on September 25, 1917 at Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Dublin following a hunger strike.

Ashe is born in Lispole, County Kerry, on January 12, 1885. He enters De La Salle Training College, Waterford in 1905 and begins a teaching career as principal of Corduff National School, Lusk, County Dublin, in 1908.

Ashe plays a major part in the 1916 Easter Rising outside the capital city commanding the Fingal battalion of the Irish Volunteers. He is commandant of the 5th battalion of the Dublin brigade, a force of 60–70 men engaging British forces around north County Dublin during the rising. They are armed only with a few rounds, about a dozen service rifles, a dozen Mausers, and a dozen Martini carbines. Some of Ashe’s men are armed only with a shotgun against the well-equipped army regulars.

Ashe’s battalion wins a major victory in Ashbourne, County Meath, where they engage a much larger force. They capture a significant quantity of arms and up to twenty Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) vehicles. Eleven RIC members, including County Inspector Alexander Gray, and two volunteers are killed during the 5-1/2 hour battle. Twenty-four hours after the rising collapses, Ashe’s battalion surrenders on the orders of Patrick Pearse. On May 8, 1916, Ashe and Éamon de Valera are court-martialled and sentenced to death. The sentences are commuted to penal servitude for life. Ashe is imprisoned in Frongoch internment camp and Lewes Prison in Lewes, East Sussex, England.

De Valera, Ashe, and Thomas Hunter lead a prisoner hunger strike on May 28, 1917. With accounts of prison mistreatment appearing in the Irish press and mounting protests in Ireland, Ashe and the remaining prisoners are freed on June 18, 1917 by David Lloyd George as part of a general amnesty.

Upon his release, Ashe returns to Ireland and begins a series of speaking engagements. In August 1917, he is arrested and charged with sedition for a speech that he makes in Ballinalee, County Longford, where Michael Collins is also speaking. He is detained at the Curragh but is then transferred to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin. He is convicted and sentenced to two years hard labour. Ashe and other prisoners, including Fionán Lynch and Austin Stack, demand prisoner of war status.

On September 20, 1917, Ashe again goes on hunger strike. He dies at Mater Misericordiae Hospital on September 25, 1917, after being force fed by prison authorities. At the inquest into his death, the jury condemns the staff at the prison for the “inhuman and dangerous operation performed on the prisoner, and other acts of unfeeling and barbaric conduct.” His body lies in state at Dublin City Hall, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

The Ashe Memorial Hall built in 1928, housing the Kerry County Museum, in Tralee is named after him while Nelson Street, also in Tralee, is renamed Ashe Street. Ashe is a relative of Catherine Ashe, the paternal grandmother of American actor Gregory Peck, who emigrates to the United States in the 19th century.


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Death of Samuel Nielson, Society of United Irishmen Founder Member

Samuel Neilson, one of the founder members of the Society of United Irishmen and the founder of its newspaper the Northern Star, dies in Poughkeepsie, New York on August 29, 1803.

Neilson is born in Ballyroney, County Down, the son of Presbyterian minister Alexander, and Agnes Neilson. He is educated locally. He is the second son in a family of eight sons and five daughters. At the age of 16, he is apprenticed to his elder brother, John, in the business of woollen drapery in Belfast. Eight years later he establishes his own business.

Despite his commercial success, Neilson is naturally drawn to politics and is early on a member of the reformist Irish Volunteers movement. In 1791, inspired by the French Revolution, he suggests to Henry Joy McCracken the idea of a political society of Irishmen of every religious persuasion. He establishes the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast. The following year he launches the newspaper of the United Irishmen, the Northern Star, which effectively throws away his fortune. As its editor he is a high-profile target for the authorities and is prosecuted for libel several times, being twice imprisoned between 1796 and 1798.

Along with several other state prisoners, Neilson is released in February 1798 following several petitions by influential friends, on grounds of bad health. Upon release he immediately involves himself in the United Irishmen aligning with the radicals among the leadership who are pressing for immediate rebellion and oppose the moderates who wish to wait for French assistance before acting.

The United Irishmen are however, severely penetrated by informants who keep Dublin Castle abreast of their plans and discussions. In March 1798, information of a meeting of the United Irish executive at the house of Oliver Bond leads to the arrest of most of the leadership, leaving Neilson and Lord Edward FitzGerald as the only figures of national importance still at liberty. They decide to press ahead as soon as possible and settled on May 23 as the date for the rebellion to begin.

As the date looms closer, the authorities go into overdrive to sweep up the rump leadership and on May 18 Lord Edward is betrayed in his hiding place and critically wounded while resisting capture. Neilson, now with responsibility for finalising plans for the looming rebellion, decides that Fitzgerald is too valuable to do without, and decides to try and rescue him from Newgate Prison in Dublin. Wary of confiding his plans too early for fear of betrayal, Neilson goes on a reconnaissance of the prison but is spotted by chance by one of his former jailers and after a fierce struggle, he is overpowered and dragged into the prison.

Neilson is indicted for high treason and held in Kilmainham Gaol with other state prisoners for the duration of the doomed rebellion outside. After the execution of Oliver Bond, and the brothers John and Henry Sheares, Neilson and the remaining prisoners agree to provide the authorities with details of the organisation of the United Irishmen, plans for the rebellion, etc. in return for exile.

Following the suppression of the rebellion, Neilson is transferred to Fort George in Inverness-shire, Scotland, and in 1802 he is deported to the Netherlands. From there he makes his way to the United States, arriving in December 1802, and settling in Poughkeepsie, New York.  He has little time to enjoy his liberty  before his  sudden death on August 29, 1803 of yellow fever, or possibly a stroke.

Nielson is not idle during his short life in America as he completes plans to start a new evening newspaper in Poughkeepsie and also has plans in the works to establish a version of the Society of United Irishmen in the United States. Since his death, his remains have been moved to three different cemeteries before coming to rest in the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery in 1880.

(Photograph: (c) National Museums Northern Ireland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation)


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The Funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa

The funeral of Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa is held before a huge crowd at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin on August 1, 1915.

Rossa’s body had been returned from New York City where he died June 29. He had been exiled by the British for his Fenian activities in 1871. While in exile, Rossa manages to alienate many of his former Fenian colleagues, including his good friend John Devoy, with his uncompromising advocacy of violence to end British rule in Ireland. Perhaps his attitude is due in part to the harsh treatment he receives in British prisons as well as scenes he witnesses while helping to distribute relief in his native County Cork during the Great Hunger.

In the late 1870s, he organizes the “Skirmishing Fund,” which finances the infamous Fenian dynamite campaign in England. When he dies in New York on June 29, 1915, he is estranged from most in the Irish republican movement.

Rossa’s funeral is one of the seminal events in the revival of the Irish republican movement in Ireland. During the three days when Rossa lays in the vestibule of the City Hall, encased in a coffin with a plate glass lid, thousands of citizens pass by to pay their final respects.

The coffin is conveyed from the City Hall in the four-horse bier in waiting at 2:25 PM and fifteen minutes later the cortège starts, headed by a guard of honour of the Irish Volunteers with rifles, a mounted guard being supplied by the same body. The coffin is thickly covered with wreaths and an open carriage behind is also filled with floral tokens, while many of the contingents carry wreaths to be placed on the grave.

The procession, in marching four deep at a slow pace, takes a little over fifty minutes to pass the corner of Dame Street into George’s Street. A conservative estimate of those who actually take part in the procession give the numbers as exceeding 6,000 and there must be at least ten times that number lining the streets.

The funeral comes into College Green at about 3:00 PM, headed by a body of Volunteers with the St. James’s Band. It is nearing 6:00 PM when the hearse passes through the main gates of Glasnevin Cemetery. The avenue leading to the mortuary chapel is lined by detachments of Volunteers. The prayers in the chapel are said by the Rev. D. Byrne, chaplain. Several priests then accompany the coffin to the grave, which is situated just beyond the eastern fringe of the O’Connell circle, close to the graves of two other prominent Fenians, John O’Leary and James Stephens.

Patrick Pearse gives an address at the graveside which has resounded with republicans down through the years. The final words of his oration provide them with one of their most enduring slogans, “Ireland unfree will never be at peace.”

A firing party then fires a volley, the Last Post is sounded and wreaths are laid on the grave.


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Birth of Cathal Brugha, Revolutionary & Politician

Cathal Brugha, Irish revolutionary and politician, is born in Dublin on July 18, 1874. He is active in the Easter Rising, the Irish War of Independence, and the Irish Civil War and is the first Ceann Comhairle (chairman) of Dáil Éireann as well as the first President of Dáil Éireann, then the title of the chief of government.

Born Charles William St. John Burgess, Brugha is the tenth of fourteen children and is educated at the Jesuit Belvedere College but is forced to leave at the age of sixteen because of the failure of his father’s business.

In 1899 Brugha join the Gaelic League, and he subsequently changes his name from Charles Burgess to Cathal Brugha. He meets his future wife, Kathleen Kingston, at an Irish class in Birr, County Offaly and they marry in 1912. They have six children, five girls and one boy. Brugha becomes actively involved in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and in 1913 he becomes a lieutenant in the Irish Volunteers. He leads a group of twenty Volunteers to receive the arms smuggled into Ireland in the Howth gun-running of 1914.

He is second-in-command at the South Dublin Union under Commandant Éamonn Ceannt in the Easter Rising of 1916. On the Thursday of Easter Week, being badly wounded, he is unable to leave when the retreat is ordered. Brugha, weak from loss of blood, continues to fire upon the enemy and is found by Eamonn Ceannt singing “God Save Ireland” with his pistol still in his hands. He is initially not considered likely to survive. He recovers over the next year, but is left with a permanent limp.

Brugha is elected speaker of Dáil Éireann at its first meeting on January 21, 1919, and he reads out the Declaration of Independence in Irish, which ratifies “the establishment of the Irish Republic.” On the following day, he is appointed president of the ministry pro tempore. He retains this position until April 1, 1919, when Éamon de Valera takes his place.

In October 1917 Brugha becomes Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army and holds that post until March 1919. He is elected as a Sinn Féin MP for the County Waterford constituency at the 1918 general election. In January 1919, Sinn Féin MPs refuse to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom and instead assemble at the Mansion House in Dublin as a revolutionary parliament called Dáil Éireann. Due to the absence of Éamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith, Brugha presides over the first meeting of Dáil Éireann on January 21, 1919.

Brugha has differences with Michael Collins, who, although nominally only the IRA’s Director of Intelligence, has far more influence in the organisation as a result of his position as a high-ranking member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, an organisation that Brugha sees as undermining the power of the Dáil and especially the Ministry for Defence. Brugha opposes the oath of allegiance required for membership of the IRB and, in 1919, his proposition that all Volunteers should swear allegiance to the Irish Republic and the Dáil is adopted.

At a top-level IRA meeting in August 1920, Brugha argues against ambushes of Crown forces unless there is first a call to surrender, but it is dismissed as unrealistic by the brigade commanders present. Brugha also has the idea of moving the front line of the war to England but is opposed by Collins.

On January 7, 1922, Brugha votes against the Anglo-Irish Treaty. During the Treaty Debates, he points out that Collins has only a middling rank in the Department for Defence, which supervises the IRA even though Arthur Griffith hails him as “the man who had won the war.” He leaves the Dáil and is replaced as Minister for Defence by Richard Mulcahy.

In the months between the Treaty debates and the outbreak of Civil War, Brugha attempts to dissuade his fellow anti-treaty army leaders including Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows and Joe McKelvey from taking up arms against the Free State. When the IRA occupies the Four Courts, he and Oscar Traynor call on them to abandon their position. When they refuse, Traynor orders the occupation of the area around O’Connell Street in the hope of easing the pressure on the Four Courts and of forcing the Free State to negotiate.

On June 28, 1922, Brugha is appointed commandant of the forces in O’Connell Street. The outbreak of the Irish Civil War ensues in the first week of July when Free State forces commence shelling of the anti-treaty positions.

Most of the anti-Treaty fighters under Oscar Traynor escape from O’Connell Street when the buildings they are holding catch fire, leaving Brugha in command of a small rearguard. On July 5, he orders his men to surrender, but refuses to do so himself. He then approaches the Free State troops, brandishing a revolver. He sustains a bullet wound to the leg which severs a major artery.

Cathal Brugha dies on July 7, 1922, eleven days before his 48th birthday. He has been re-elected as an anti-Treaty TD at the 1922 general election but dies before the Dáil assembles. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.