seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Frank Stagg, Provisional IRA Hunger Striker

Frank Stagg, Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) hunger striker, is born in Hollymount, County Mayo on October 4, 1941.

Stagg is the seventh child in a family of thirteen children. His father, Henry, and his uncle had both fought in the Irish War of Independence and Irish Civil War. His brother, Emmet Stagg, becomes a Labour Party politician and a Teachta Dála (TD) for Kildare North. He is educated to primary level at Newbrook Primary School and at CBS Ballinrobe to secondary level. After finishing his schooling, he works as an assistant gamekeeper with his uncle prior to emigrating to England in search of work. Once in England, he gains employment as a bus conductor in North London and later becomes a bus driver. While in England he meets and marries fellow Mayo native, Bridie Armstrong from Carnacon in 1970.

In 1972, Stagg joins the Luton cumann of Sinn Féin and soon after becomes a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

In April 1973, Stagg is arrested with six others alleged to comprise an IRA unit planning bombing attacks in Coventry. He is tried at Birmingham Crown Court. The jury finds three of the seven not guilty. The remaining four are all found guilty of criminal damage and conspiracy to commit arson. Stagg and English-born priest, Father Patrick Fell, are found to be the unit’s commanding officers. Stagg is given a ten-year sentence and Fell is given twelve years. Thomas Gerald Rush is given seven years and Anthony Roland Lynch, who is also found guilty of possessing articles with intent to destroy property, namely nitric acid, balloons, wax and sodium chlorate, is given ten years.

Stagg is initially sent to the top security Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight. In March 1974, having been moved to Parkhurst Prison, he and fellow Mayo man Michael Gaughan join a hunger strike begun by the sisters Marian Price and Dolours Price, Hugh Feeney and Gerry Kelly.

Following the hunger strike that results in the death of Michael Gaughan, the Price sisters, Feeney and Kelly are granted repatriation to Ireland. Stagg is denied repatriation and is transferred to Long Lartin Prison. During his time there he is subject to solitary confinement for refusing to do prison work and is also subjected, along with his wife and sisters during visits, to humiliating body searches. In protest against this, he begins a second hunger strike that lasts for thirty-four days. This ends when the prison governor agrees to an end of the strip-searches on Stagg and his visitors. He is bed-ridden for the rest of his incarceration in Long Lartin, due to a kidney complaint.

In 1975 Stagg is transferred to Wakefield Prison, where it is demanded that he again do prison work. He refuses and is placed in solitary confinement. On December 14, 1975, he embarks on a hunger strike in Wakefield, along with a number of other republican prisoners, after being refused repatriation to Ireland during the IRA/British truce. His demands are an end to solitary confinement, no prison work and repatriation to prison in Ireland. The British government refuses to meet any of these demands and Stagg dies on February 12, 1976 after 62 days on hunger strike.

Stagg’s burial causes considerable controversy. Republicans and two of his brothers seek to have him buried in the republican plot in Ballina beside the grave of Michael Gaughan, in accordance with his wishes. His widow, his brother Emmet Stagg and the Irish government wish to have him buried in the family plot in the same cemetery and to avoid republican involvement in the funeral.

In order to prevent the body from being disinterred and reburied by republicans, the grave is covered with concrete. Local Gardaí keep an armed guard by the grave for six months. However, unknown to them, the plot beside the grave is available for purchase. Stagg’s brother George purchases the plot and places a headstone over it, with it declaring that the “pro-British Irish government” had stolen Frank’s body. In November 1977, a group of republicans dig down into the plot that George had purchased, then dig sideways and recover Stagg’s coffin from the adjacent plot under cover of darkness, before reburying it in the republican plot beside the body of Michael Gaughan. The Republicans hold their own version of a funeral ceremony before disappearing back into the night.

Following the final burial, an anonymous letter is sent to Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, Minister for Justice Patrick Cooney, Minister for Post and Telegraphs Conor Cruise O’Brien and Minister for Foreign Affairs Garret FitzGerald, informing them each that they have been “marked out for assassination” because of their government’s involvement with Stagg’s burials. Stagg’s widow Bridie and his brother Emmett are reported to be intimidated by members of the Provisional IRA due to their opposition to his burial in a Republican plot.

The IRA swears revenge over Stagg’s death, warning the British public it is going to attack indiscriminately. They explode about 13 bombs throughout England within a month after his death.


Leave a comment

Capture of Mallow Barracks

The Cork No. 2 Brigade, Irish Republican Army (IRA), attacks and captures a military barracks in Mallow, County Cork, on September 28, 1920, the only military barracks to be captured during the Irish War of Independence. British forces later burn and sack the town.

Mallow had been a garrison town for several hundred years. Eight miles to the north lay Buttevant where one of the largest military barracks in the country is located. Not far from Buttevant are the great military training camps of Ballyvonaire, while nineteen miles to the northeast is Fermoy with its large permanent military garrisons and huge barracks adjacent to the big training centres of Kilworth and Moorepark. Twenty miles to the southeast is the city of Cork with its many thousands of troops both in the posts within the city and at Ballincollig, about six miles west of it, on the Macroom road. Thirteen miles westward a detachment from a British machine gun corps holds Kanturk. Every town and village has its post of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men armed to the teeth.

The idea of capturing the barracks comes from two members of the Mallow IRA Battalion, Dick Willis, a painter, and Jack Bolster, a carpenter, who are employed on the civilian maintenance staff of the barracks which is occupied by the 17th Lancers. Willis and Bolster are able to observe the daily routine of the garrison and form the opinion that the capture of the place would not be difficult. They are instructed by their local battalion officers to make a sketch map of the barracks. After that is prepared, Liam Lynch and Ernie O’Malley go with Willis and Tadhg Byrnes to Mallow to study the layout of the surrounding district. Among the details of the garrison’s routine that Willis and Bolster report to the Column leaders, is the information that each morning the officer in charge, accompanied by two-thirds of the men, take the horses for exercise outside the town. It is obvious to the two Mallow volunteers that this is the ideal time for the attack.

Situated at the end of a short, narrow street and on the western verge of the Town Park, Mallow barracks stand on an unusually low-lying location and is relatively small in size. Surrounded by a high stone wall, the barracks can be approached from the town park as well as from the main street. The various details are carefully studied by Lynch and O’Malley. While Willis and Bolster are allotted tasks within the walls of the barracks, Byrnes and Jack Cunningham are chosen to attack with the main body of the column which includes Commandant Denny Murphy of Kanturk.

On the morning of September 27, at their Burnfort headquarters, the men are ordered to prepare for action. Under cover of darkness they move into the town and enter the Town Hall by way of the park at the rear. The eighteen men of the column are strengthened by members of the Mallow battalion, a number of men posted in the upper storey of the Town Hall, from which they can command the approaches to the nearby RIC barracks. Initially it is planned that Willis and Bolster will enter the military barracks that morning in the normal manner, accompanied by an officer of the column who will pose as a contractor’s overseer. The officer is Paddy McCarthy of Newmarket, who would die a few months later in a gun battle with the Black and Tans at Millstreet.

McCarthy, Willis and Bolster enter the barracks without mishap. Members of the garrison follow their normal routine, with the main body of troops under the officer in charge leaving the barracks with the horses. In the barracks remain about fifteen men under the command of a senior N.C.O., Sergeant Gibbs.

Once the military has passed, the attackers, numbering about twenty men and led by Liam Lynch, advance toward the bottom of Barrack Street. All are armed with revolvers which are considered the most convenient and suitable weapons for the operation. Lynch has issued strict instructions that there is to be no shooting by the attackers, unless as a last resort. Inside the walls are McCarthy, Willis and Bolster, their revolvers concealed. Then Ernie O’Malley presents himself at the wicket gate with a bogus letter in his hand. Behind him and out of sight of the sentry are the other members of the main attacking party, led by Lynch, O’Brien and George Power. When the gate is opened sufficiently, O’Malley wedges his foot between it and the frame and the soldier is overpowered and the attackers rush in. McCarthy, Bolster and Willis immediately go to the guardroom where they hold up the guard. Realising what is happening, Sergeant Gibbs, rushes toward the guardroom in which rifles are kept. Although called upon to halt, he continues even though a warning shot is fired over his head. As he reaches the guardroom door, the IRA officer and one of the volunteers in the guardroom fire simultaneously. Mortally wounded, the sergeant falls at the guardroom door.

By this time the majority of the attacking party is inside the gate. Military personnel in different parts of the barracks are rounded up and arms are collected. Three waiting motor cars pull up to the gate and all the rifles, other arms and equipment found in the barracks are loaded into them. The prisoners are locked into one of the stables, with the exception of a man left to care for Sergeant Gibbs. The whole operation goes according to plan, except for the shooting of the sergeant. Twenty minutes after the sentry had been overpowered the pre-arranged signal of a whistle blast is sounded and the attackers withdraw safely to their headquarters at Burnfort, along the mountain road out of Mallow.

Expecting reprisals, the column moves to Lombardstown that night, and positions are taken up around the local co-operative creamery as it is the custom of the British to wreak their vengeance on isolated country creameries after incidents such as what had just occurred. The Mallow raid, however, has greater repercussions than the destruction of a creamery and co-operative stores. The following night, large detachments of troops from Buttevant and Fermoy enter Mallow. They rampage through the town, burning and looting at will. High over the town, the night sky is red with the flames of numerous burning buildings.

Townspeople run through the blazing streets, in search of refuge. A number of women and children are accorded asylum in the nearby convent schools. Another group of terrified women, some with children in arms, take refuge in the cemetery at the rear of St. Mary’s Church, where they kneel or lay above the graves. It is a night of terror such as which had never before been endured by the people of Mallow.

The extent of the wanton destruction outrages fair-minded people all over the world. Details of the havoc that had been wrought and pictures of the scenes of destruction are published worldwide.

(Pictured: Townspeople gather in front of one of the many buildings in Mallow which were reduced to ruins during British Army reprisals)


Leave a comment

The Templemore Miracles

In August and September 1920 the town of Templemore in County Tipperary is the sight of alleged Marian apparitions. Thousands of people come to the town daily to see the apparitions. The affair occurs during the Irish War of Independence and results in a short-lived local truce between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Crown forces. When the truce ends, pilgrims stop coming to the town and the sightings end. The affair is sometimes referred to as the Templemore miracles.

In January 1919 the Irish War of Independence begins and lasts until July 1921. On the night of August 16, 1920, British soldiers of the Northamptonshire Regiment attack Templemore in reprisal for the killing of an Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) officer by IRA volunteers earlier that day. They fire volleys and burn homes and businesses. No civilians or IRA men are killed but two soldiers die by accident in the fires.

Shortly after the attack, a sixteen-year old farm labourer named James Walsh claims that he was visited by the Virgin Mary in his cottage in the nearby townland of Curraheen. She told him that she was troubled by what was happening in Ireland. At her request he digs a hole in the ground in his bedroom and this soon fills with spring water. Afterwards he claims that all three statues of the Virgin Mary in his home began to bleed. He takes these statues to Templemore, where the bleeding is witnessed. One man who had been crippled for most of his life claims he is dancing in the streets after visiting Walsh’s cottage. He is the first of many who claim to have been cured of their ailments in the presence of Walsh or the statues.

Locals believe that divine intervention had prevented any of them being killed or wounded during the attack by the British. Walsh gathers people around the statues to say the Rosary in Irish. According to Ann Wilson, the statues are seen “as asserting the Catholic Irish identity of the population in the face of the non-Catholic British opponent, a superior spiritual power which would win out against the much more substantial, but merely worldly, advantages of the enemy.”

The affair is soon reported in local and national newspapers, which causes more pilgrims to go to Tipperary, both to see the statues in Templemore and Walsh’s cottage in Curraheen. On August 31, 1920 an RIC inspector writes to the Dublin Castle administration, estimating that over 15,000 pilgrims per day are coming down. Many come seeking cures for various illnesses and report that they had received them. One RIC officer resigns from his job to join a religious order. One soldier is reported to convert to Catholicism. The influx results in a large economic windfall for the town.

The official position of the church is one of ‘extreme reserve.’ The parish priest Reverend Kiely refuses to see the statues. However, no effort is made to stop people making pilgrimages. Local IRA commander James Leahy notes a division between older and younger clergy in the local church, with older clergy generally being skeptical of Walsh while younger clergy are more enthusiastic about his claims.

Prior to the apparitions beginning, Wilson had given a Virgin Mary statue to a local RIC constable named Thomas Winsey, according to the Tipperary Star. Winsey placed the statue in the barracks. This too is said to be bleeding. One day a large crowd of pilgrims besiege the barracks and have to be physically restrained when they attempt to enter it. The statue is removed from the barracks. Police and military stop appearing on the street shortly after.

The IRA effectively takes over the area at this point. They keep order, organise traffic and help pilgrims. However, they do not appear in the streets in uniform and there is an informal truce in effect between them and Crown forces.

Local IRA commander James Leahy is concerned at the effect that tips given to IRA volunteers were having on discipline. He and other local commanders interrogate Walsh and stop believing him after this. He contacts IRA Director of Intelligence Michael Collins. Collins has Dan Breen interrogate Walsh. Breen reports that Walsh “was a fake.” Collins sarcastically replies, “One can’t take any notice of what you say, Breen, because you have no religion.”

Having failed to get the church to intervene and denounce Walsh, Leahy and other IRA members decide to restart the war anyway. On September 29, IRA volunteers attack a group of RIC men between Templemore and Curraheen. Two constables are killed. As anticipated, this brings police and army reinforcements to the area. Soldiers loot and desecrate sites outside Templemore associated with the pilgrimage. Rumours begin that the town itself would soon be attacked. Pilgrims flee the area. The statues apparently stop bleeding.

Interest in the statues and Walsh’s cottage largely end at this point, ending Templemore as a sight for pilgrimages. However, Michael Collins does receive a statue at his request. Upon receiving the statue, he smashes it. He discovers that inside is an alarm clock connected to fountain pen inserts containing sheep’s blood. When the clock strikes a certain time, it sends a spurt of blood out of the statue, giving the impression it is bleeding. It is not clear whether this statue performed in Templemore or was one of the ones owned by James Walsh. Collins had received complaints from a local priest that IRA volunteers had engineered statues that would bleed at intervals.

James Walsh is labelled as a possible spy by Dan Breen. At the request of Templemore clergy he is taken to Salesian College in Limerick and placed in the care of Father Aloysius Sutherland. He emigrates to Australia in 1923, settling in Sydney. Towards the end of his life he attempts to enter numerous religious orders but is unsuccessful due to a prior divorce. He dies in Sydney in 1977, having never returned to Ireland.

Historian John Reynolds states at a talk that the affair could have been a prank that got out of hand or was a money-making swindle. He speculates that Walsh may have been used by others, who really instigated it. He discounts the local IRA as having been the instigators.

The affair is not well-known despite gaining worldwide attention at the time. However, in November 2012 the Irish-language television broadcaster TG4 screens a documentary about it. In 2019 the book The Templemore Miracles, written by John Reynolds, is published.

(Pictured: Children pray beside statues that were reported to have started bleeding, Belfast Telegraph, http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk)


Leave a comment

JFK Article Published About the Partition of Ireland

A fascinating article entitled “Ireland Seething Again Over Partition” is published by John F. Kennedy for the Hearst Newspaper group on July 29, 1945.

Kennedy’s comments about “the brilliant, austere (Éamon) De Valera” are particularly astute who is still “fighting politically the same relentless battle, that was fought in the field during the uprising of 1916, in the war of independence and later in the civil war.”

Kennedy is not always given credit for his writing abilities, with the majority of credit for speech writing given rightly to his White House Counsel Ted Sorenson), but some elements of this article are lyrical.

Commenting on De Valera’s debate elaboration, “he left the situation to many observers as misty as this island on an early winter’s morning.” And on De Valera’s Fianna Fáil colleagues, “All have been in both England and Ireland prisons, and many have wounds which still ache when the cold winds come in from the west.”

When visiting Ireland in 1963, Kennedy makes humorous reference to the respective birth places of the Kennedy and De Valera clan.


Leave a comment

Birth of Joseph Campbell, Poet & Lyricist

Joseph Campbell, Irish poet and lyricist, is born in Belfast on July 15, 1879. He writes under the Gaelic form of his name Seosamh Mac Cathmhaoil (also Seosamh MacCathmhaoil), as Campbell is a common anglicisation of the old Irish name MacCathmhaoil. He is now remembered best for words he supplied to traditional airs, such as “My Lagan Love” and “Gartan Mother’s Lullaby.” His verse is also set to music by Arnold Bax and Ivor Gurney.

Campbell is born into a Catholic and Irish nationalist family from County Down. He is educated at St. Malachy’s College, Belfast. After working for his father he teaches for a while. He travels to Dublin in 1902, meeting leading nationalist figures. His literary activities begin with songs, as a collector in Antrim, County Antrim and working with the composer Herbert Hughes. He is then a founder of the Ulster Literary Theatre in 1904. He contributes a play, The Little Cowherd of Slainge, and several articles to its journal Uladh edited by Bulmer Hobson. The Little Cowherd of Slainge is performed by the Ulster Literary Theatre at the Clarence Place Hall in Belfast on May 4, 1905, along with Lewis Purcell’s The Enthusiast.

Campbell moves to Dublin in 1905 and, failing to find work, moves to London the following year where he is involved in Irish literary activities while working as a teacher. He marries Nancy Maude in 1910, and they move shortly thereafter to Dublin, and then later to County Wicklow. His play Judgement is performed at the Abbey Theatre in April 1912.

Campbell takes part as a supporter in the Easter Rising of 1916, doing rescue work. The following year he publishes a translation from Irish of the short stories of Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the Rising.

Campbell becomes a Sinn Féin Councillor in Wicklow in 1921. Later in the Irish Civil War he is on the Republican side, and is interned in 1922-23. His marriage breaks up, and he emigrates to the United States in 1925 where he settles in New York City. He lectures at Fordham University, and works in academic Irish studies, founding the University’s School of Irish Studies in 1928, which lasts four years. He is the editor of The Irish Review (1934), a short lived “magazine of Irish expression.” The business manager is George Lennon, former Officer Commanding of the County Waterford Flying Column during the Irish War of Independence. The managing editor is Lennon’s brother-in-law, George H. Sherwood.

Campbell returns to Ireland in 1939, settling at Glencree, County Wicklow. He dies at Lacken Daragh, Enniskerry, County Wicklow on June 6, 1944.


Leave a comment

Éamon de Valera Meets David Lloyd George in London

On July 14, 1921, just three days after a truce is implemented ending the Irish War of Independence, Éamon de Valera, President of Dáil Éireann, meets with British Prime Minister David Lloyd George in London.

Francis Stevenson, Private Secretary to Lloyd George recalls, “I have never seen David so excited as he was before de Valera arrived, at 4:30. He kept walking in and out of my room… As I told him afterwards, he was bringing up all his guns! He had a big map of the British Empire hung up on the wall in the Cabinet room, with its great blotches of red all over it. This was to impress de Valera with the greatness of the British Empire and to get him to recognise it, and the King.” De Valera apparently is not impressed.

When de Valera, Richard Barton and Art O’Brien arrive at Downing Street, “cheers were raised, Sinn Féin flags were displayed, and the crowd sang Irish airs.” As the meeting goes on, a “large crowd of Irish sympathisers knelt in the rain at Whitehall, at the end of Downing Street, recited the Rosary, and sang several hymns. Before the prayers started they sang “Ireland a Nation.” According to a reporter covering the event, the singing of Irish songs and the praying never ceases.

Six days later, Britain makes its first formal proposal. The main negotiations take place in December culminating with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty on December 6, 1921.

(From: Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland, http://www.stairnaheireann.net, July 14, 2016 | Photo credit: National Library of Ireland collection, dated Thursday, July 14, 1921 (at approximately 5:30 PM), outside Downing Street as de Valera meets Lloyd George, at the first of four meetings held between the two in July 1921.)


Leave a comment

The Conor Pass Ambush

Two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men are killed on Conor Pass in Dingle, County Kerry, on July 13, 1920 during the Irish War of Independence.

District Inspector Michael Fallon, accompanied by three other police in a motor car, are ambushed on the Conor Pass between Cloghane and Dingle, County Kerry. The D.I. is returning from an inspection of the barracks at Cloghane when the party is ambushed by members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) West Kerry No.1 Brigade who are billetted at Fibough, in the Slieve Mish Mountains. The IRA volunteers include J. Dowling, Paddy Paul Fitzgerald, Dan Jeffers and Mick McMahon among their number.

Constables George Roach 62449 and Michael Linehan 63592 are killed outright. D.I. Fallon and Constable Joseph Campbell 67905, the driver, are both wounded. The IRA removes the bodies from the car and takes away the rifles and revolvers of the police. They then take Constable Campbell prisoner, dropping him off about three miles down the road.

Constable Linehan is 34 years old and single, and is originally from Cork. He has twelve years police service. His funeral takes place at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Limerick with burial in Mount St. Lawrence Cemetery. A hearse cannot be obtained so the constabulary, in relays, carry the coffin from the church to the cemetery.

Constable Roach has thirteen years service and is from County Clare. He is also a single man.

Compensation awards for gunshot injuries are later made to D.I. Fallon of £850 and to Constable Campbell of £600.

(From: “Constables George Roach and Michael Linehan, killed on the Connor Pass 1920” by Peter Mc, The Royal Irish Constabulary Forum (www.irishconstabulary.com), March 7, 2011)


Leave a comment

Birth of Sebastian Barry, Novelist, Playwright & Poet

Sebastian Barry, novelist, playwright and poet, is born in Dublin on July 5, 1955. He is noted for his lyrical literary writing style and is considered one of Ireland’s finest writers. He is named Laureate for Irish Fiction, 2019–2021.

Barry’s mother is acclaimed actress Joan O’Hara. He is educated at Catholic University School and Trinity College, Dublin, where he reads English and Latin. His literary career begins in poetry before he begins writing plays and novels.

Barry starts his literary career with the novel Macker’s Garden in 1982. This is followed by several books of poetry and a further novel, The Engine of Owl-Light (1987), before his career as a playwright begins with his first play produced in the Abbey Theatre, Boss Grady’s Boys (1988).

Barry’s maternal great-grandfather, James Dunne, provides the inspiration for the main character in his most internationally known play, The Steward of Christendom, which wins the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize, the Lloyd’s Private Banking Playwright of the Year Award and other awards. The main character in the play, Thomas Dunne, is the chief superintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Police from 1913 to 1922. He oversees the area surrounding Dublin Castle until the Irish Free State takeover on January 16, 1922. One of his grandfathers belonged to the British Army Corps of Royal Engineers while the other is a painter, a Nationalist, and a devotee of Éamon de Valera.

Both The Steward of Christendom and the novel The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, are about the dislocations, physical and otherwise, of loyalist Irish people during the political upheavals of the early 20th century. The title character of the latter work is a young man forced to leave Ireland by his former friends in the aftermath of the Irish War of Independence.

Barry has been twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for his novels A Long Long Way (2005) and The Secret Scripture (2008), the latter of which wins the 2008 Costa Book of the Year and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. His fifth novel, On Canaan’s Side (2011), is longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize and wins the 2012 Walter Scott Prize. In January 2017, he is awarded the Costa Book of the Year prize for Days Without End (2016), becoming the first novelist to win the prestigious prize twice. The novel also wins The Walter Scott Prize and The Independent Booksellers’ Prize, and is longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017.

Barry’s play Andersen’s English is inspired by children’s writer Hans Christian Andersen coming to stay with Charles Dickens and his family in the Kent marshes. Directed by Max Stafford-Clark and produced by the Out of Joint Theatre Company and Hampstead Theatre, the play tours in the United Kingdom from February 11 to May 8, 2010. Our Lady of Sligo is directed in 1998 by Stafford-Clark at the Royal National Theatre co−produced by Out of Joint.

In 2001, Barry establishes his personal and professional archive at the Harry Ransom Center. More than sixty boxes of papers document his diverse writing career and range of creative output which includes drawings, poetry, short stories, novels, essays, and scripts.

Barry has been awarded honorary degrees from NUI Galway, the Open University and the University of East Anglia. His academic posts include Honorary Fellow in Writing at the University of Iowa (1984), Heimbold Visiting Professor at Villanova University (2006) and Writer Fellow at Trinity College, Dublin (1995–1996).

Barry lives in County Wicklow with his wife, actor and screenwriter Alison Deegan.


Leave a comment

Death of Séamus O’Donovan, IRA Volunteer & Nazi Collaborator

James O’Donovan, a leading volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Nazi collaborator also known as Séamus or Jim O’Donovan, dies in Dublin on June 4, 1979. He is best known for his contacts with the Abwehr military intelligence of Nazi Germany.

Born on November 3, 1896 in County Roscommon, O’Donovan is an explosives expert and reputedly invents the “Irish War Flour” (named after the flour sacks in which it was smuggled into Dublin aboard ships) and “Irish Cheddar” devices. He subsequently becomes IRA Director of Chemicals in 1921. During the Irish War of Independence he is imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison and Kilmainham Gaol and later interned in Newbridge, County Kildare.

In addition to fighting in the Irish War of Independence, O’Donovan fights on the Anti-Treaty side during the Irish Civil War. In 1930 he becomes manager at Electricity Supply Board (ESB) headquarters in Dublin.

In August 1938, at the request of IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell, O’Donovan writes the S-Plan, a bombing campaign targeting the United Kingdom. In his unpublished memoirs he writes that he “conducted the entire training of cadre units, was responsible for all but locally-derived intelligence, carried out small pieces of research and, in general, controlled the whole explosives and munitions end” of S-Plan. During this time he and Russell are the only GHQ members of the old IRA still in the organisation.

As “Agent V-Held”, O’Donovan visits Germany three times in 1939 on behalf of the IRA. On February 28 he negotiates an arms and radio equipment delivery at the Abwehrstelle in Hamburg. On April 26 he concludes a new arms deal with the Abwehrstelle and establishes, with the help of a Breton, a secret courier connection to Ireland via France. On August 23, he receives the last instructions for the event of war.

On February 9, 1940, Abwehr II agent Ernst Weber-Drohl lands at Killala Bay, County Sligo aboard U-37. He is equipped with a ‘Ufa’ transmitter, cash, and instructions for O’Donovan, who by this time is the chief IRA contact for Abwehr I/II. The transmitter is lost upon landing, but when Weber-Drohl reaches O’Donovan at Shankill, Killiney, County Dublin, he is able to deliver new transmission codes, $14,450 in cash, and a message from “Pfalzgraf Section” asking that the IRA concentrate its S-Plan attacks on military rather than civilian targets.

O’Donovan becomes increasingly enamoured of Nazi ideology during this time, and visits Germany three times. In 1942 he writes an article arguing that Ireland’s future lay in an alliance with a victorious Germany and attacks Britain and the United States for being “centres of Freemasonry, international financial control and Jewry.” Even long after the pact with the Germans falls apart, he continues to express his sympathy for the Nazi regime. His son, Gerard O’Donovan, recalls that every Saturday night a visitor would come to the family home and send messages to Germany.

In 1940, O’Donovan is involved in setting up Córas na Poblachta, a minor Irish republican political party which proves unsuccessful.

O’Donovan dies in Dublin on June 4, 1979.


Leave a comment

The Kilmeena Ambush

The Kilmeena ambush takes place at Kilmeena, County Mayo, on May 19, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence. The ambush ends in defeat for the local West Mayo Irish Republican Army (IRA), with six IRA volunteers killed and seven wounded. Two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and one Black and Tan are also killed in the action.

The IRA in west Mayo is relatively quiet until January 1921, when Michael Kilroy, described as “a puritanical and ascetic blacksmith” takes over command of the Brigade after Thomas Derrig is arrested by the Royal Irish Constabulary. Kilroy forms a relatively large “flying column” of 40 to 50 men to carry out attacks on Crown forces in the area. On May 6 they suffer a reverse at Islandeady, when a police patrol comes upon the IRA men cutting a road. Three volunteers are killed and two captured.

On May 18, 1921, the IRA decides to attack an RIC/Black and Tan convoy at Kilmeena. Two small-unit attacks are made on the RIC barracks in Newport and Westport to try to draw the police out of their well-defended barracks. One RIC man dies in these attacks.

At 3:00 AM the next day, May 19, the column of 41 IRA men take up position close to Knocknabola Bridge. The British convoy, traveling from Newport to Westport, consists of two Crossley lorries and one Ford touring car and a total of about thirty men. The convoy does not arrive until 3:00 PM and its arrival sparks a two-hour fire-fight. In the battle, one RIC man is wounded and later dies. The British regroup around the house of the parish priest, Father Conroy, and launch a counterattack.

Four IRA volunteers are killed. They are Seamus Mc Evilly, Thomas O’Donnell, Patrick Staunton and Sean Collins. Paddy Jordan of the Castlebar battalion is injured and dies later at Bricens Hospital in Dublin. Seven more IRA men are wounded.

The remainder of the column, carrying their wounded, flee over the mountains to Skerdagh, where they have safe houses. However, the police track them there and, in another exchange of fire, another IRA man is killed, Jim Brown from Newport, along with one RIC Constable and a Black and Tan.

The Black and Tans throw the dead and wounded IRA men onto the street outside the RIC barracks in nearby Westport, causing widespread revulsion among the local people and local police. The Marquis of Sligo, no friend of the republican guerrillas, visits the barracks to complain of their treatment of enemy dead. At the funerals of those killed, in Castlebar, the authorities allow only close family to attend and forbid the draping of the Irish tricolour over the coffins.

The local IRA blames their defeat in the ambush on the failure of an IRA unit from Westport to show up in time.

Kilroy’s column manages to get some revenge for the setback at Kilmeena the following month in an action at Carrowkennedy on June 3, where they kill eight policemen and capture sixteen.