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


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The Arnon Street Massacre

arnon-street-massacreThe Arnon Street Massacre takes place on April 1, 1922 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Six Catholic civilians, three in Arnon Street, are shot dead. It is believed that members of either the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) or the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) are responsible, acting in retaliation for the killing of an RIC officer by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Although the Irish War of Independence officially ends in July 1921, the Irish Republican Army’s conflict with British and unionist forces continues in Northern Ireland and escalates in the first half of 1922. The Ulster IRA, with the tacit but covert assistance of Michael Collins, head of the new Irish Free State, continues to wage a guerrilla war in Northern Ireland. According to historian Alan Parkinson, despite “the IRA having some short term successes … the main effect of this intensive campaign was to unleash a terrible backlash on the Catholic population in Belfast.” Only a week before the Arnon Street incident, policemen – either Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) or Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) – kill six Catholic civilians in the McMahon murders.

On the evening of April 1, RIC constable George Turner is patrolling the Old Lodge Road when he is killed by a sniper.

About ten police officers in Brown Square Barracks, upon hearing of Turner’s murder, take a Lancia armoured car and begin touring nationalist areas. When they dismount their vehicle, witnesses hear them shouting “Cut the guts out of them for the murder of Turner.” Their first victim is John McRory who lives on Stanhope Street, just across the road from where Constable Turner had been shot. The police break into his house and shoot him dead in his kitchen. In Park Street, Bernard McKenna, father of seven, is killed while lying in bed. Finally, the police arrived at Arnon Street.

William Spallen, who lives at 16 Arnon Street, has just returned from the funeral of his wife who had also been killed in the conflict. His 12-year-old grandson, Gerald Tumelty, witnesses his death. “Two men came into the room, one was in the uniform of a policeman. They asked my grandfather his name and he said William Spallen. The man in plain clothes fired three shots at him. When I cried out he said ‘lie down or I will put a bullet into you.'” Tumelty says the killers then take £20 that his grandfather had to pay for his wife’s funeral.

The attackers then use a sledgehammer to break into the house next door, where they find Joseph Walsh in bed with his seven-year-old son Michael and his two-year-old daughter Bridget. Joseph Walsh is bludgeoned to death with the sledgehammer while Michael Walsh is shot and dies from his wounds the next day. Another son, Frank, is shot in the thigh but survives. Later that evening another Catholic, John Mallon, is shot dead in Skegoneill Avenue.

The unionist press, the Belfast Newsletter and Belfast Telegraph, condemn the killings but do not identify the killers as police. The Dublin-based Irish Independent writes that “never even in the worst state of terror in the west and south has the state of affairs which now prevails in the Northern capital been experienced.” Michael Collins sends an angry telegram to Northern Ireland Prime Minister James Craig, demanding a joint inquiry into the killings. No such inquiry is set up.

As with the McMahon killings one week earlier, it is strongly suspected that an RIC Detective Inspector, Nixon, operating out of the Brown Street Police barracks, had organised the attack. Nixon and several other policemen fail to turn up at roll call at the barracks immediately after the killings.

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The Headford Ambush

headford-ambushThe Headford Ambush is carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on March 21, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. The battle lasts almost an hour and fourteen people are killed – nine British soldiers, two IRA volunteers and three civilians.

The guerrilla war in County Kerry escalates rapidly in the spring of 1921. The county is occupied by the British Army, Auxiliary Division and Black and Tans paramilitary police, as well as the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). For the previous several months they have been burning suspected Republicans’ property and shooting suspected IRA sympathisers. By early 1921, they have begun rounding up male inhabitants of nearby towns and villages and searching for IRA suspects.

On January 23, in response to the IRA’s assassination of RIC District Inspector Sullivan, 1,000 soldiers and armed police surround Ballymacelligott, arrest 240 men and march them to Tralee for questioning. British forces, especially the Auxiliaries, also carry out a number of reprisal shootings of local civilians. The IRA sets up full-time guerrilla units, known as flying columns, to avoid arrest and to assemble units capable of taking on British patrols. IRA GHQ in Dublin also sends an organizer, Andy Cooney, to Kerry to oversee the setting up of flying columns. On March 2, under Cooney’s direction, the 2nd Kerry Brigade sets up its own flying column under Dan Allman and Tom McEllistrim. On March 5, McEllistrim leads 20 volunteers from the column to a successful ambush at Clonbanin, in which they co-operate with Cork IRA units, killing four British soldiers including Brigadier General Hanway Robert Cumming. Buoyed by their success in Cork, the 2nd Kerry Brigade tries on a number of occasions to ambush British forces in Kerry itself.

On March 21, an IRA party of the 2nd Kerry Brigade is billeted about four miles from the Headford railway junction when they hear that British troops are returning by train from Kenmare to Tralee. As the train does not go directly to Tralee, the British have to change trains at Headford, making them vulnerable to ambush. Allman, commanding 30 volunteers, reaches the junction only 12 minutes before the train, which is carrying 30 soldiers of the 1st Royal Fusiliers. The railway staff just has time to flee before the train pulls into the platform, where its passengers have to change trains for Tralee. Alongside the soldiers, the train is packed with cattle and pig farmers on their way back from the market in Kenmare. Most of the civilians have already got off when the British soldiers begin to disembark. Allman himself tries to disarm a Fusilier but shoots him when he resists. This is the signal for the IRA to open fire on the British troops.

One of the first British casualties is Lieutenant CE Adams DCM, who is shot dead when he appears at the carriage door, as are several other soldiers who are standing in front of the engine. The surviving British troops open fire from the train while those who have got off scramble underneath it for cover. In the ensuing close-quarter firefight, conducted at a range of just 20 yards, three civilians and two IRA volunteers, including Allman, are killed. Two-thirds of the British force is estimated to have been killed or wounded. Most of those killed are hit in the initial firing. Afterwards, the IRA gunmen have no direct field of fire into the troops who are hidden under the train.

MacEllistrim calls on the survivors to surrender and when they refuse, the IRA begins to move in to finish off those who keep shooting by throwing hand grenades under the train. Just as they are doing so, another train pulls into the junction carrying another party of British troops. The IRA column has used most of its ammunition and is forced to retreat, escaping toward the hills in the south.

(Pictured: British soldiers searching a train in County Kerry, 1921)


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The Assassination of Tomás Mac Curtain

Tomas-mac-curtainTomás Mac Curtain, Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork, is assassinated in Cork, County Cork on March 20, 1920, which is also his 36th birthday.

Thomas Curtin is born at Ballyknockane, Mourne Abbey, County Cork, on March 20, 1884, the son of Patrick Curtin, a farmer, and Julia Sheehan. He attends Burnfort National School. In 1897 the family moves to Cork City, where he attends the North Monastery school.

Mac Curtain, as he later becomes known, is active in a number of cultural and political movements beginning around the turn of the 20th century. He joins the Blackpool, Cork branch of Conradh na Gaeilge, becoming its secretary in 1902. He has interests in music, poetry, history, archaeology and Irish history. He works in his early career as a clerk, and in his free time teaches Irish. In 1911 he joins Fianna Éireann, and is a member of the Irish Volunteers.

He meets Elizabeth Walsh (Eibhlís Breathnach) at a Gaelic League meeting and they marry on June 28, 1908. They have six children, five of whom survive into adulthood. The family lives over 40 Thomas Davis Street, where Mac Curtain runs a small clothing and rainwear factory.

In April 1916, at the outset of the Easter Rising, Mac Curtain commands a force of up to 1,000 men of the Irish Volunteers who assemble at various locations around County Cork. From the volunteers headquarters at Sheares Street in the city, Mac Curtain and his officers await orders from the volunteer leadership in Dublin but conflicting instructions and confusion prevail and as a result the Cork volunteers never enter the fray. A tense stand-off develops when British forces surround the volunteer hall and continued for a week until a negotiated agreement leads to the surrender of the volunteers’ arms to the then Lord Mayor of Cork Thomas Butterfield on the understanding that they will be returned at a later date. This does not happen however and Mac Curtain is jailed in Wakefield Prison, in the Frongoch internment camp in Wales, and in Reading Gaol. After the general amnesty of participants in the Rising 18 months later, Mac Curtain returns to active duty as a Commandant of what is now the Irish Republican Army.

By 1918 Mac Curtain is a brigade commander, the highest and most important rank in the IRA. During the Conscription Crisis of 1918, he actively encourages the hiring of the women of Cumann na mBan to cater for Volunteers. He is personally involved with Michael CollinsThe Squad that, along with a Cork battalion, attempt to assassinate Lord John French, whose car is missed as the convoy passes through the ambush positions. Despite the setback he remains brigadier of No.1 Cork when he is elected Lord Mayor. He is elected in the January 1920 council elections as the Sinn Féin councillor for NW Ward No. 3 of Cork, and is chosen by his fellow councillors to be the Lord Mayor. He begins a process of political reform within the city.

In January 1919, the Irish War of Independence starts and Mac Curtain becomes an officer in the IRA. On March 20, 1920, his 36th birthday, Mac Curtain is shot dead in front of his wife and son by a group of men with blackened faces, who are found to be members of the Auxilaries along with unknown members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) by the official inquest into the event. In the wake of the killing, which is in revenge for the shooting of a policeman, Mac Curtain’s house in Blackpool is ransacked.

The killing causes widespread public outrage. The coroner’s inquest passes a verdict of willful murder against British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and against certain members of the RIC. Michael Collins later orders his squad of assassins to uncover and assassinate the police officers involved in the attack. RIC District Inspector Oswald Swanzy, who had ordered the attack, is fatally shot, with Mac Curtain’s own revolver, while leaving a Protestant church in Lisburn, County Antrim on August 22, 1920, sparking what is described by Tim Pat Coogan as a “pogrom” against the Catholic residents of the town.

Tomás Mac Curtain is buried in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery, Cork.


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The Crossbarry Ambush

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERADuring the Irish War of Independence, Tom Barry and the West Cork Flying Column of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) rout a superior force from the Essex Regiment of the British Army at Crossbarry, County Cork on March 19, 1921.

A force of one hundred IRA members under the leadership of Barry are involved in a major skirmish with up to 1,000 British troops at Crossbarry. English intelligence has determined that Barry’s West Cork Brigade is based near Crossbarry and plans a major encirclement and assault. Poor planning and timing ensures that the British forces get separated before attacking Barry’s men. Barry is a brilliant guerrilla fighter and strategist who directs an attack against an initial force of approximately 140 men, before he orders his men to break out.

Charlie Hurley, one of the Brigade commanders who is injured during the Upton train ambush, is staying in a house with a pro-republican family, where he is recuperating from serious wounds he had received at Upton a month earlier. When he realises that he is surrounded by the British forces, he flees the house, as Tom Barry comments in his book, to reduce the danger to those in the house. He is shot dead by the pursuing troops. Barry remarks that Hurley “went to meet his death like a true Irishman.” A ballad exists that commemorates him. In addition, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) grounds in Bandon, County Cork are named after him.

Reports as to casualties differ. The IRA claims that over thirty British are killed while official British figures are ten killed and six IRA men killed. Whatever the numbers, it is probably the largest single military engagement in the Irish War of Independence as the IRA knew major battles with British troops would be a disaster for them and rarely got involved in full frontal action. While the casualties may not seem that large, Crossbarry is a major morale victory for the IRA who had “defeated” a British force of over one thousand. Prime Minister David Lloyd George states that the Crossbarry and Kilmichael ambushes convinced him of the need for a truce and a treaty with the Irish rebels.

(Pictured: Crossbarry Ambush Memorial, Crossbarry, County Cork)


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The Selton Hill Ambush

selton-hill-ambush-memorialThe Selton Hill Ambush takes place on March 11, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. An Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column is ambushed by members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Auxiliary Division at Selton Hill, County Leitrim. Six IRA officers of the Leitrim Brigade are killed.

Seán Connolly is an IRA activist from County Longford, but he is also used by IRA GHQ to organise the surrounding areas of County Roscommon and County Leitrim. When Michael Collins orders Connolly into the county, he warns that it is “the most treacherous county in Ireland.” As Connolly is running a training camp at Selton Hill in early 1921, his position is given to the RIC. The RIC District Inspector, Thomas Gore-Hickman, has been alerted to Connolly’s position by a local doctor who had served in the British Army. The doctor had reportedly been told of the training camp by a local member of the Orange Order.

The events at Selton Hill take place one week after the Sheemore ambush, in which British troops from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, based in Boyle suffer several casualties and at least one fatality. On March 11, at Selton Hill, a large force of RIC and Auxiliaires, based in Mohill and troops from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment surround and then attack the IRA camp. Six IRA volunteers are killed. The RIC suffers no losses. The IRA dead are Sean Connolly, Seamus Wrynne, Joseph O’Beirne, John Reilly, Joseph Reilly, and Capt. M.E. Baxter.

Ernie O’Malley later claims the volunteers’ bodies are “taken to Mohill by soldiers who shouted ‘fresh meat!’ as they were driving through the town.” He is also quoted as saying, “Men from the Bedfordshire Regiment were seen by a badly wounded IRA officer, Bernie Sweeney who survived, to use rifle butts on the skulls of two wounded men.” He also states that the location of the column was given to the local District Inspector of the RIC by a doctor who had been in the British Army, who received the information by a local Orangeman. The IRA officer who survives is Bernie Sweeney, from Ballinamore, who survives by hiding in a drain, where the cold water prevents him from bleeding to death. He is rescued and hidden from the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries by locals.

The IRA learn their position had been given away by the doctor and the Orangeman. The latter is later killed by the IRA. The doctor escapes to England and later dies in an accident.

The border country of the north midlands often proves to be a treacherous place for IRA training camps. On May 8, 1921 a camp of Belfast IRA volunteers based in the Lappanduff hills in neighbouring County Cavan, is also surprised. One volunteer is killed, thirteen captured, and arms and ammunition are seized by the British forces.

(Pictured: Selton Hill Ambush Memorial, south of the village of Fenagh, County Leitrim)


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Murder of Frank Shawe-Taylor

castle-taylor-ardrahanFrank Shawe-Taylor, Irish land agent and ex-High Sheriff of County Galway, is shot and killed in an Irish Republican Army (IRA) ambush on March 3, 1920 during the Irish War of Independence. Shawe-Taylor is a member of the Taylor family of Castle Taylor, Ardrahan, County Galway. He is related to Lady Gregory and Captain John Shawe-Taylor. He serves as High Sheriff of County Galway in 1915.

Land disputes in Ireland had been a contentious issue for much of the 19th century, with tenants of landlords insisting on fixity of tenure, which later grows into a demand to own their own land. In addition, The Wyndham Land Act of 1903 enables the transfer of about 9 million acres, up to 1914, from landlords to tenants. However, tenure and ownership of land is still a live issue on the eve of the Irish War of Independence.

Shawe-Taylor is a land agent to a local landlord, and is himself a tenant. Early in January 1920, a group of local IRA soldiers, including Mick Kelly, Bill Freaney and Larry Lardner, approach Shawe-Taylor on behalf of some local people who are requesting a road to travel to Mass. While Shawe-Taylor himself is amenable to their demands, his landlord refuses them outright and makes this known via Shawe-Taylor.

On March 3, 1920, Shawe-Taylor and his driver, Barrett, are making their way to Galway to attend the fair. At 6:00 AM the coach reaches Egan’s Pub, Coshla, where they find the road blocked. The donkey cart of a local, Johnny Kelly, has been stolen and placed across the road. From behind the wall, at least two shooters fire at Barrett and Shawe-Taylor, wounding Barrett and killing Shawe-Taylor. This results in a huge security presence in the area, which in turn leads to more unrest with the locals. This increases with the arrival of the Black and Tans, whose irregular methods result in shootings, assaults, rapes and deaths. Moorpark House is placed under Royal Irish Constabulary protection out of fear of further killings.

Other people who subsequently die as a result of the unrest in Galway include Ellen Quinn, a pregnant mother of six and a tenant of Lady Gregory, Fr. Michael Griffin, Tom Egan and brothers Patrick and Harry Loughnane. In addition, there are numerous incidents of violence, many of which are recorded with horror by Lady Gregory in her journal, who remarks that “the country has gone wild since the killing of Frank Shawe-Taylor.”

No one is ever tried for Frank Shawe-Taylor’s killing, though the identities of those involved are known to some locals at the time. His widow eventually sells their property and, with her young children, moves to England.

Shawe-Taylor is buried in St. Mary’s graveyard, Athenry. The music critic, Desmond Shawe-Taylor (1907–1995) and British racing driver Brian Shawe-Taylor (1915–1999) are his sons. His grandson is Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures since 2005.

(Pictured: Castle Taylor, near to Ardrahan and Caranavoodaun, Galway, Ireland | Photo © Mike Searle (cc-by-sa/2.0))


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Birth of Short Story Writer Seán Ó Faoláin

sean-ofaolainSeán Proinsias Ó Faoláin, Irish short story writer, is born as John Francis Whelan on February 22, 1900 in Cork, County Cork.

Ó Faoláin is educated at the Presentation Brothers Secondary School in Cork. He comes under the influence of Daniel Corkery, joining the Cork Dramatic Society and increasing his knowledge of the Irish language, which he had begun in school. Shortly after entering University College Cork, he joins the Irish Volunteers and fights in the Irish War of Independence. During the Irish Civil War he serves as Censor for The Cork Examiner and as publicity director for the Irish Republican Army (IRA). After the Republican loss, he receives M.A. degrees from the National University of Ireland and from Harvard University where he studies for three years. He is a Commonwealth Fellow from 1926 to 1928 and is a Harvard Fellow from 1928 to 1929.

Ó Faoláin writes his first stories in the 1920s, eventually completing 90 stories over a period of 60 years. From 1929 to 1933 he lectures at the Catholic college, St. Mary’s College, at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, England, during which period he writes his first two books. His first book, Midsummer Night Madness, is published in 1932. It is a collection of stories partly based on his Civil War experiences. He afterwards returns to his native Ireland. He publishes novels, short stories, biographies, travel books, translations, and literary criticism – including one of the rare full-length studies of the short story, The Short Story (1948). He also writes a cultural history, The Irish, in 1947.

Ó Faoláin serves as director of the Arts Council of Ireland from 1956 to 1959, and from 1940 to 1990 is a founder member and editor of the Irish literary periodical The Bell. The list of contributors to The Bell include many of Ireland’s foremost writers, among them Patrick Kavanagh, Patrick Swift, Flann O’Brien, Frank O’Connor and Brendan Behan. His Collected Stories are published in 1983. He is elected Saoi of Aosdána in 1986.

Seán Proinsias Ó Faoláin dies after a short illness on April 20, 1991 in the Dublin nursing home where he had lived for two years.