seamus dubhghaill

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


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Opening of the Custom House in Dublin

custom-houseThe Custom House (Irish: Teach an Chustaim), a neoclassical 18th century building in Dublin which houses the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, opens on November 7, 1791. It is located on the north bank of the River Liffey, on Custom House Quay between Butt Bridge and Talbot Memorial Bridge.

A previous Custom House had been built in 1707 by engineer Thomas Burgh. However, by the late 18th century it is deemed unfit for purpose.

The building of a new Custom House for Dublin is the idea of John Beresford, who becomes first commissioner of revenue for Ireland in 1780. In 1781 he appoints James Gandon as architect, after Thomas Cooley, the original architect on the project, dies. This is Gandon’s first large scale commission. The new Custom House is unpopular with the Dublin Corporation and some city merchants who complain that it moves the axis of the city, would leave little room for shipping, and is being built on what at the time is a swamp. Purchase of land is delayed and proves exorbitant and the laying of foundations is disrupted by the High Sheriff and members of the Dublin Corporation with a mob of several thousand. However, Beresford is determined to complete the project and ignores the protests.

Construction begins in 1781, and for his assistants Gandon chooses Irish artists such as Meath stone-cutter Henry Darley, mason John Semple, and carpenter Hugh Henry. Every available mason in Dublin is engaged in the work. When it is completed and opens for business on November 7, 1791, it has cost £200,000 to build – a considerable sum at the time. The four facades of the building are decorated with coats-of-arms and ornamental sculptures by Edward Smyth representing Ireland’s rivers. Another artist, Henry Banks, is responsible for the statue on the dome and other statues.

As the port of Dublin moves further downriver, the building’s original use for collecting custom duties becomes obsolete, and it is used as the headquarters of local government in Ireland. During the Irish War of Independence in 1921, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) burns down the Custom House in an attempt to disrupt British rule in Ireland. Gandon’s original interior is completely destroyed in the fire and the central dome collapses. A large quantity of irreplaceable historical records are also destroyed in the fire. Despite achieving its objectives, the attack on the Custom House is a setback for the IRA as a large number of Volunteers are captured either during the attack or when falling back.

After the Anglo-Irish Treaty, it is restored by the Irish Free State government. The results of this reconstruction can still be seen on the building’s exterior today. The dome is rebuilt using Irish Ardbraccan limestone which is noticeably darker than the Portland stone used in the original construction. This is done as an attempt to promote Irish resources.

Further restoration and cleaning of the stonework is done by an Office of Public Works team in the 1980s.

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Birth of Activist Mary Ellen Spring Rice

mary-ellen-spring-riceMary Ellen Spring Rice, Irish nationalist activist during the early 20th century, is born into an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family in London, England on October 14, 1880.

Spring Rice is the daughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 2nd Baron Monteagle of Brandon, and a great-granddaughter of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon. Her maternal grandfather is the bishop, Samuel Butcher. She is brought up on the family’s Mount Trenchard estate overlooking the River Shannon. It is a progressive, liberal household and independence of thought is encouraged. So too is the Gaelic culture and, at home, she and her brothers are taught how to fluently speak the Irish language.

Before World War I, Spring Rice hosts many Irish nationalist and Conradh na Gaeilge meetings at her home, and she becomes a close friend of Douglas Hyde and her cousin Nelly O’Brien. During 1913 and 1914, she is actively involved in gun-running, most notably the Howth gun-running.

This involves helping to ship weapons to be used in an Irish uprising from Germany into Ireland. Together with Molly Childers, she raises £2,000 towards the purchase of 900 Mauser rifles from Germany, many of which are used in the 1916 Easter Rising. She sails on the Asgard to collect the guns and helps to unload them in Ireland.

During the Irish War of Independence, Spring Rice allows her Mount Trenchard home to be used as a safe house by Irish Republican Army fighters and the family boat is used to carry men and arms over the Shannon Estuary.

Con Collins stays with Spring Rice regularly. She helps train local women as nurses to tend to wounded nationalists and acts as an IRA message carrier between Limerick and Dublin. Throughout this time, she maintains her aristocratic façade and society connections, inviting senior Liberal Party politicians to Mount Trenchard to pressure them to support Irish independence.

Spring Rice starts to suffer from tuberculosis in 1923, and dies unmarried in a sanatorium in Clwdyy, Wales, on December 1, 1924. She is buried in Ireland, where her coffin is draped in the Irish tricolour and escorted by an IRA guard of honour.

(Pictured: Mary Ellen Spring-Rice and Molly Childers with the German guns on board Asgard, 1914.)


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Death of Dan Keating, Last Survivor of the Irish War of Independence

dan-keatingDaniel “Dan” Keating, lifelong Irish republican and patron of Republican Sinn Féin, dies in Knockbrack, County Kerry on October 2, 2007. At the time of his death he is Ireland’s oldest man and the last surviving veteran of the Irish War of Independence.

Keating is born on January 2, 1902 in Castlemaine, County Kerry. He receives his education in local schools, including the Christian Brothers’ School in Tralee. Tralee is also the place where Keating does his apprenticeship. During this time he becomes a skillful Gaelic football player in his native Kerry.

Keating joins Fianna Éireann in 1918. In 1920, during the Irish War of Independence, he joins the Boherbee B Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Kerry Brigade, Irish Republican Army (IRA). He first brings a firearm of a Liverpool Irish soldier of the British Army into a public house in which he works. On April 21, 1921, Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Constable Denis O’Loughlin is shot dead in Knightly’s public house in Tralee. Keating, Jimmy O’Connor and Percy Hanafin are suspected of the killing and are forced to go on the run. On June 1, Keating is involved in an ambush between Castlemaine and Milltown which claims the lives of five RIC men. On July 10, a day before the truce between the IRA and British forces, his unit is involved in a gun battle with the British Army near Castleisland. This confrontation results in the deaths of four British soldiers and five IRA volunteers.

Keating opposes the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty and fights on the anti-treaty side in the Irish Civil War. He is involved in operations in counties Kerry, Limerick, and Tipperary, before his flying column is arrested by Free State Forces. Keating spends seven months in Portlaoise Prison and the Curragh prison before being released in March 1923.

Keating remains an IRA member for a long time after the Civil War. He is arrested several times during the 1930s on various charges. He is active in London during the 1939/1940 IRA bombing campaign.

In 1933, Keating is involved in an attempt to assassinate the leader of the Irish Blueshirts, Eoin O’Duffy, during a visit to County Kerry. The attack is to happen at Ballyseedy, where Free State forces had carried out the Ballyseedy Massacre during the Irish Civil War. However, the plot fails when the person travelling with O’Duffy refuses to divulge in which car O’Duffy would be riding.

Keating subsequently returns to Dublin and works as a barman in several public houses. He retires and returns to his native Kerry in 1978, living out the rest of his life with relatives in Knockbrack. Until his death he refuses to accept a state pension because he considers the 26-county Republic of Ireland an illegitimate state which usurps the 1916 Irish Republic.

“All the talk you hear these days is of peace. But there will never be peace until the people of the 32 counties elect one parliament without British interference.”

In 2002, Keating refuses the state’s standard €2,500 award to centenarians from President Mary McAleese. After former IRA volunteer George Harrison dies in November 2004, Keating becomes patron of Republican Sinn Féin until his own death. At the time of his death at the age of 105 on October 2, 2007, he is the oldest man in Ireland. He is buried in Kiltallagh Cemetery, Castlemaine.


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Death of Kathleen Clarke, Founder of Cumann na mBan

kathleen-clarkeKathleen Clarke (née Daly), a founder member of Cumann na mBan, and one of very few privy to the plans of the Easter Rising in 1916, dies in Dublin on September 29, 1972. She is the wife of Tom Clarke and sister of Edward “Ned” Daly, both of whom are executed for their part in the Rising. She is subsequently a Teachta Dála (TD) and senator with both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil, and the first female Lord Mayor of Dublin (1939–41).

Kathleen Daly is born into a prominent Fenian family in Limerick on April 11, 1878, the third daughter of Edward and Catherine Daly. Her paternal uncle, John Daly, is at the time imprisoned for his political activities in Chatham and Portland Prisons in England. He is released in 1896 and returns home to Limerick. When Tom Clarke, who had been imprisoned with her uncle, is released in 1898 he travels to Limerick to receive the Freedom of the City and stays with the Daly family.

In 1901 Daly decides to emigrate to the United States to join Tom, who had been there since 1900, having secured work through his Fenian contacts. They marry on July 16, 1901 in New York City. Through his contacts in the Clan na Gael and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), Tom Clarke continues to be involved in nationalist activity. Kathleen joins the Gaelic League while in the United States and they return to Ireland in November 1907.

In 1914 Clarke becomes a founder member of Cumann na mBan. Her husband forbids her permission to take an active part in the 1916 Easter Rising as she has orders regardless of how the events pan out. As Tom Clarke is the first signatory of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic he is chosen to be executed for his part in the Easter Rising. Her younger brother, Ned Daly, is also executed for taking part in the rising. She visits both of them before they are executed. After the Rising, Michael Collins establishes contact with her while in prison in his attempts to re-build the IRB network. She also sets up the Irish National Aid Fund to aid those who had family members killed or imprisoned as a result of the Easter Rising, closely aided by Sorcha MacMahon.

Clarke becomes a member of Sinn Féin and in 1917 is elected a member of the party’s Executive. During the German Plot she is arrested and imprisoned in Holloway Prison for eleven months. During the Irish War of Independence she serves as a District Judge on the Republican Courts in Dublin. In 1919 she is elected as an Alderman for the Wood Quay and Mountjoy Wards of Dublin Corporation and serves until the Corporation is abolished in 1925.

Clarke is elected unopposed as a Sinn Féin TD to the Second Dáil at the 1921 elections for the Dublin Mid constituency. She is not re-elected at the 1922 general election, however, and supports the Anti-Treaty forces during the Irish Civil War. In 1926 she becomes a founder member of Fianna Fáil and has to resign from Cumann na mBan. She is re-elected to the short-lived 5th Dáil at the June 1927 election as a Fianna Fáil member for the Dublin Mid constituency but loses her seat at the September 1927 election and does not regain it. She is elected as one of six Fianna Fáil Senators to the Free State Seanad for nine years at the 1928 Seanad election under the leadership of Joseph Connolly. She remains a member of the Seanad until it is abolished in 1936.

In 1930 Clarke is elected to the re-constituted Dublin Corporation for Fianna Fáil along with Robert Briscoe, Seán T. O’Kelly, Thomas Kelly and Oscar Traynor. She serves as the first Fianna Fáil Lord Mayor of Dublin as well as the first female Lord Mayor, from 1939 to 1941. She opposes the Constitution of Ireland as she feels that several of its sections would place women in a lower position that they had been afforded in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. She is criticised by many in the Fianna Fáil organisation as a result and, while she resigns from the Thomas Clarke Cumann, she remains a member of the Fianna Fáil Ard Chomhairle.

While Clarke does not support the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombing in England during World War II, she appeals for those sentenced to death by the Irish Government to be given clemency. Ultimately this leads to her breaking with the party completely after her term as Lord Mayor finishes in 1941. She declines to stand as a Fianna Fáil candidate at the 1943 general election.

In 1966, as part of the celebrations of the Easter Rising, Clarke and other surviving relatives are awarded honorary doctorates of law by the National University of Ireland. Following her death on September 29, 1972, she receives the rare honour of a state funeral. She is buried at Deans Grange Cemetery, Dublin.


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Birth of Seán Keating, Romantic-Realist Painter

sean-keating-an-allegorySeán Keating, Irish romantic-realist painter who painted some iconic images of the Irish War of Independence and of the early industrialization of Ireland, is born in Limerick, County Limerick on September 28, 1889.

Keating studies drawing at the Limerick Technical School before a scholarship arranged by William Orpen allows him to go study at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin at the age of twenty. Over the next few years, he spends two weeks or so during the late summer on the Aran Islands and his many portraits of island people depict them as rugged heroic figures.

In 1914 he wins the RDS Taylor award with a painting titled The Reconciliation. The prize includes £50.00 which allows him to go to London to work as Orpen’s studio assistant in 1915. In late 1915 or early 1916, he returns to Ireland where he documents the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent Irish Civil War. Examples include Men of the South (1921–22) which shows a group of Irish Republican Army (IRA) men ready to ambush a military vehicle and An Allegory (first exhibited in 1924), in which the two opposing sides in the Irish Civil War are seen to bury the tri-colour covered coffin amid the roots of an ancient tree. The painting includes a self-portrait of the artist.

Keating is elected an Associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1918, and a full member in 1923. One of the cardinal achievements of the Irish Free State in the 1920s is the building, in partnership with Siemens, of a hydro-electric power generator at Ardnacrusha, near Limerick. Between 1926 and 1927, at his own volition, he produces a considerable number of paintings related to this scheme. He exhibits several examples of the paintings in the RHA exhibitions in 1927 and 1928. Most of the paintings are now in the collection of ESB Group.

In 1936 group of prominent Limerick politicians, artists and patrons establish the first Limerick City Collection of Art from various donations and bequests. Keating is part of this artist-led initiative to form a municipal art gallery in Limerick similar to those already in Dublin and Cork. The collection is formed primarily out of donations and bequests. As a pivotal member of the committee, Keating himself donates many works to the collection which is first exhibited as a municipal collection in the Savoy Cinema, Limerick City on November 23, 1937. It is not until 1948 that an extension to the rear of Limerick Free Library and Museum becomes the home to the City Collection as the Limerick Free Art Gallery. In 1985 the Library and Museum are transferred to larger buildings.

In 1939 Keating is commissioned to paint a mural for the Irish pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. He is President of the RHA from 1950 to 1962, and shows at the annual exhibition for 61 years from 1914. Although he is an intellectual painter in the sense that he consciously sets out to explore the visual identity of the Irish nation, and his paintings show a very idealised realism, he fears that the modern movement will bring back a decline in artistic standards. Throughout his career, he exhibits nearly 300 works at the RHA and also shows at the Oireachtas.

Seán Keating dies on December 21, 1977 at the Adelaide Hospital in Dublin and is buried at Cruagh Cemetery, Rathfarnham. The 1978 RHA Exhibition features a small memorial collection of his work.

Posthumous exhibitions of his work are mounted by The Grafton Gallery, Dublin (1986) and the Electricity Supply Board (1987). Sean Keating – The Pilgrim Soul, a documentary presented and written by his son Justin Keating, airs on RTÉ in 1996.

(Pictured: Photograph of Keating’s “An Allegory” painted between 1922 and 1924. The painting represents Keating’s own disillusionment and loss of idealism resulting from the outbreak of the Irish Civil War. The only figure of the group addressing the observer is a self-portrait of the artist.)


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First Edition of the “Irish Press” Published

irish-press-may-25-1995The first edition of the Irish Press, a Dublin daily newspaper founded by Éamon de Valera as a platform for Fianna Fáil, is published on September 5, 1931.

Irish Press Ltd. is officially registered on September 4, 1928, three years before the paper is first published, to create a newspaper independent of the existing media where the Independent Newspapers group is seen as supporting Cumann na nGaedheal/Fine Gael, and The Irish Times being pro-union, and with a mainly middle-class or Protestant readership.

The paper’s first issue is published on the eve of the 1931 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final between Cork and Kilkenny. Other newspapers do not cover GAA sports in any detail at the time. Margaret Pearse, the mother of Patrick and Willie Pearse, presses the button to start the printing presses. The initial aim of its publisher is to achieve a circulation of 100,000 which it quickly accomplishes. It goes on to list 200,000 subscribers at its peak.

The money to launch the Irish Press is raised in the United States during the Irish War of Independence by a bond drive to finance the First Dáil. Five million dollars is raised , however 60 percent of this money is left in various banks in New York City. No one knows why de Valera ordered the bulk of the money to be left in New York when he returned to Ireland in late 1920.

In 1927, as a result of legal action between the Irish Free State government and de Valera, a court in New York orders that the bond holders be paid back outstanding money due to them. However de Valera’s legal team has anticipated the ruling and has prepared for the outcome. A number of circulars are sent to the bond holders asking them to sign over their holdings to de Valera. The bond holders are paid 58 cents to the dollar. This money is then used as start up capital to launch the Irish Press. Following the 1933 Irish General Election, de Valera uses his Dáil Éireann majority to pass a measure allowing the bond holders to be paid the remaining 42 percent of the money still owed.

In December 1931, editor Frank Gallagher is prosecuted by an Irish Free State military tribunal for publishing articles alleging that Garda Síochána had mistreated the Anti-Treaty republicans of the Irish Free State government. This is facilitated by Amendment 17 of the Constitution of the Irish Free State and Gallagher is convicted and fined £50. An example of animosity from those who support Independent Newspapers and the Free State government is that the Irish Press is excluded from the special train which delivers newspapers from Dublin to the countryside. As a result, it is circulated throughout Ireland by a specially rented train.

The Irish Press sustains itself with its own resources until The Sunday Press is founded in 1949. In its heyday, the Irish Press has a number of first-rate reporters and columnists. One notable section, New Irish Writing is edited by David Marcus.

In the 1970s, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, Conor Cruise O’Brien, tries to use and amend The Emergency Powers Act and Section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, to censor coverage of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Irish Press editor, Tim Pat Coogan, publishes editorials attacking the Bill. The Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government tries to prosecute the Irish Press for its coverage of the maltreatment of republican prisoners by the Garda “Heavy Gang,” with the paper winning the case.

The Irish Press starts two further newspapers, the Evening Press (1954), and The Sunday Press. The Evening Press is aimed at an urban readership and achieves a daily circulation of 100,000. The new newspapers subsidise the Irish Press when its circulation sags. Its adoption of a tabloid format does not rescue its declining circulation.

The final issue of the Irish Press and Evening Press is on Thursday, May 25, 1995. The newspapers close because of a bizarre industrial dispute over the sacking of the group business editor, Colm Rapple. The group has not been in a healthy financial state for several years. When it eventually closes, with indebtedness of £20 million, 600 people lose their jobs.

(Pictured: Cover of last ever edition of the Irish Press from May 25, 1995)


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The Battle of Ridgeway

battle-of-ridgewayThe Battle of Ridgeway, sometimes called the Battle of Lime Ridge or Limestone Ridge, is fought on June 2, 1866 in the vicinity of the town of Fort Erie across the Niagara River from Buffalo, New York between Canadian troops and an irregular army of Irish American invaders, the Fenians.

The Fenian insurgents, led by Brigadier General John O’Neill, a former Union cavalry commander who had specialized in anti-guerrilla warfare in Ohio, secures boats and transfers some 800 men across the Niagara River, landing above Fort Erie, before dawn on June 1, 1866. An additional 200–400 Fenians and supplies cross later in the morning and early afternoon until the U.S. Navy gunboat, the USS Michigan, begins intercepting Fenian barges at 2:20 PM.

O’Neill spends the first day trying to rally the local citizenry to the Fenian cause and to commandeer supplies for his mission, but his force is plagued by desertions almost from the outset. An additional column of 200 Fenians join his group, bringing his total strength at Ridgeway to at least 650 men.

Meanwhile, the British are mobilizing both local Canadian militia and British garrison troops to defend against the impending invasion of Canada. The Fenians night-march north across Black Creek through a cedar swamp, then turn inland on Ridge Road on the morning of June 2, taking up a defensive position on Limestone Ridge near the present Canadian town of Ridgeway. There, they clash with 850 advancing Canadian militia commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Booker of the 13th Battalion.

In the first hour of the battle, the Canadians appear to prevail, driving Fenian skirmishers back across Bertie Road. Then the tide turns and, to this day, it is not clear what causes the impending chaos. O’Neill, observing the chaos breaking out in the Canadian ranks, quickly orders a bayonet charge that completely routs the inexperienced Canadians. The Fenians take and briefly hold the town of Ridgeway. Then, expecting to be overwhelmed by British reinforcements, they quickly turn back to Fort Erie where they fight a second battle, the Battle of Fort Erie, against a small but determined detachment of Canadians holding the town.

The Canadian loss is nine killed on the field, four dying of wounds in the immediate days following the battle, 22 dying of wounds or disease later and 37 are wounded, some severely enough to require amputation of their limbs. O’Neill says that four or five of his men are killed, but Canadians claim to have found six Fenian bodies on the field. The relatively low casualty figures make this an interesting battle for proponents of theories about soldiers’ reluctance to shoot to kill, but might also be accounted for by the fact that the Fenians had deployed only their skirmishers in an attempt to lure the Canadians towards their main force which did not advance until the last minutes of the battle when they launched a bayonet attack that broke Canadian lines.

The battlefield is designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1921 and is the last battle fought in the province of Ontario against a foreign invasion. The action at Ridgeway has the distinction of being the only armed victory for the cause of Irish independence between the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and the Irish War of Independence (1919).

(Pictured: An 1869 illustration of the battle: Charge of General O’Neill’s Fenians upon the Canadian troops, causing their rout.)