seamus dubhghaill

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


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Bloody Sunday (1920)

More than 30 people are killed or fatally wounded in a day of violence in Dublin on November 21, 1920, during the Irish War of Independence. It goes down in Irish history as the first “Bloody Sunday,” though unfortunately not the last.

Through the centuries the British have crushed Irish revolutionary movements through the use of spies and informers. Michael Collins, Minister for Finance of the Irish Republic, head of the secretive Irish Republican Brotherhood and Irish Republican Army (IRA) Chief of Intelligence, is in the process of beating the British at their own game. The day begins in the early morning hours with an IRA operation, organised by Collins, to assassinate members of the “Cairo Gang” – a team of undercover British intelligence agents working and living in Dublin. IRA members go to a number of addresses and kill or fatally wounded 16 men, mostly British Army intelligence officers. Five other men are wounded.

When word of the success of the operation gets back to Collins, knowing the caliber of the men in England‘s infamous “Black and Tan” force, he sends a message to the Gaelic Athletic Association, telling them to cancel that day’s Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary. However, it is too late and the match goes on.

Later that afternoon, lashing out blindly, the Black and Tans surround Croke Park during the match and move in. Their supposed purpose is to attempt to capture members of Sinn Féin who might be in the crowd, but they soon open fire indiscriminately on the players and spectators. They kill or fatally wound fourteen civilians and wound at least sixty others before members of the Auxiliary Division, another brutal force created to crush the Irish insurrection, finally manages to get them to cease-fire.

That evening, two Irish republicans and members of Collins’ squad, Dick McKee and Peadar Clancy, who had helped plan the earlier assassinations, along with a third man, a civilian named Conor Clune, who happened to be caught with the others, are beaten and shot dead in Dublin Castle by their captors, who claim they were killed during an escape attempt.

Overall, Bloody Sunday is considered a victory for the IRA, as Collins’s operation severely damages British intelligence, while the later reprisals do no real harm to the guerrillas but increase support for the IRA at home and abroad.

(Pictured: The headline of the Dublin Evening Herald reads ‘Latest Stories about Irish Tragedies’, 22nd November 1920. The newspaper reports on the massacre at a Croke Park football match, shootings in Dublin, and the discovery of a priest’s corpse in a Galway bog. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


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The Piltown Cross Ambush

Irish Republican Army (IRA) fighters from West Waterford, under Column O/C George Lennon, ambush a British army patrol at Piltown (Kinsalebeg), County Waterford, on November 1, 1920 during the Irish War of Independence. Two soldiers are killed, six wounded, and thirty captured although those captured are later released. Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Constable Maurice Prendiville promises to leave the RIC but is fatally shot the following month at the Youghal Bridge.

Involved is the IRA West Waterford Brigade, specifically the newly formed Deise Flying Column under O/C Lennon of Dungarvan, as well as Volunteers from the local Ardmore battalion. Returned Great War veteran John Riordan plans the successful engagement involving a feint attack on the RIC barracks in Ardmore.

The British garrison in Youghal subsequently dispatches nearly twenty troops in a single lorry. They are ambushed at Kinsalebeg and suffer two dead and six wounded. The ambush results in the capture of several rifles and a large quantity of ammunition which are used to equip the flying column. Captured are RIC constables O’Neill and Prendiville who give their word that they will resign. Prendiville is subsequently killed from a shot from the Waterford side of the Youghal Bridge.

(Pictured: Piltown Cross Ambush Memorial unveiled in 2008)


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Death of Terence MacSwiney, Playwright & Politician

Terence James MacSwiney, Irish playwright, author, politician and Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish War of Independence, dies in London‘s Brixton Prison on October 25, 1920 after 73 days on hunger strike. His death brings him and the Irish Republican campaign to international attention.

MacSwiney is born at 23 North Main Street, Cork, County Cork, one of eight children of John and Mary MacSwiney. Following the failure of this business, John MacSwiney emigrates to Australia in 1885 leaving the children in the care of their mother and his eldest daughter.

MacSwiney is educated by the Christian Brothers at the North Monastery school in Cork, but leaves at fifteen to help support the family. He becomes an accountancy clerk but continues his studies and matriculates successfully. He continues in full-time employment while he studies at the Royal University (now University College Cork), graduating with a degree in Mental and Moral Science in 1907.

In 1901 MacSwiney helps to found the Celtic Literary Society, and in 1908 he founds the Cork Dramatic Society with Daniel Corkery and writes a number of plays for them. His first play, The Last Warriors of Coole, is produced in 1910. His fifth play, The Revolutionist (1915), takes the political stand made by a single man as its theme.

Described as a sensitive poet-intellectual, MacSwiney’s writings in the newspaper Irish Freedom bring him to the attention of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He is one of the founders of the Cork Brigade of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and is President of the Cork branch of Sinn Féin. He founds a newspaper, Fianna Fáil, in 1914, but it is suppressed after only 11 issues. In April 1916, he is intended to be second in command of the Easter Rising in Cork and Kerry, but stands down his forces on the order of Eoin MacNeill.

Following the rising, MacSwiney is imprisoned by the British Government under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 in Reading and Wakefield Gaols until December 1916. In February 1917 he is deported from Ireland and imprisoned in Shrewsbury and Bromyard internment camps until his release in June 1917. It is during his exile in Bromyard that he marries Muriel Murphy of the Cork distillery-owning family. In November 1917, he is arrested in Cork for wearing an Irish Republican Army (IRA) uniform, and, inspired by the example of Thomas Ashe, goes on a hunger strike for three days prior to his release.

In the 1918 Irish general election, MacSwiney is returned unopposed to the first Dáil Éireann as Sinn Féin representative for Mid Cork, succeeding the Nationalist MP D. D. Sheehan. After the murder of his friend Tomás Mac Curtain, the Lord Mayor of Cork on March 20, 1920, he is elected as Lord Mayor. On August 12, 1920, he is arrested in Cork for possession of “seditous articles and documents,” and also possession of a cipher key. He is summarily tried by a court on August 16 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment at Brixton Prison in England.

In prison MacSwiney immediately starts a hunger strike in protest of his internment and the fact that he was tried by a military court. Eleven other Irish Republican prisoners in Cork Jail go on hunger strike at the same time. On August 26, the British Government states that “the release of the Lord Mayor would have disastrous results in Ireland and would probably lead to a mutiny of both military and police in south of Ireland.”

MacSwiney’s hunger strike gains world attention. The British Government is threatened with a boycott of British goods by Americans, while four countries in South America appeal to Pope Benedict XV to intervene. Protests are held in Germany and France as well. An Australian member of Parliament, Hugh Mahon, is expelled from the Parliament of Australia for “seditious and disloyal utterances at a public meeting,” after protesting against the actions of the British Government. Two weeks later, the Spanish Catalan organization Autonomous Center of Employees of Commerce and Industry (CADCI) sends a petition to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George calling for his release and the newspaper of the organization, Acció (Acción in Spanish), begins a campaign for MacSwiney.

Food is often placed near MacSwiney to persuade him to give up the hunger strike. Attempts at force-feeding are undertaken in the final days of his strike. On October 20, 1920 he slips into a coma and dies five days later after 73 days on hunger strike. His body lay in St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark in London where 30,000 people file past it. Fearing large-scale demonstrations in Dublin, the authorities divert his coffin directly to Cork, and his funeral in the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne on October 31 attracts huge crowds. He is buried in the Republican plot in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork. Arthur Griffith delivers the graveside oration.


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Death of IRA Leader Seán Treacy

Seán Allis Treacy, one of the leaders of the Third Tipperary Brigade of the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence, is killed on October 14, 1920 in a gun battle in Talbot Street, Dublin.

Treacy is born on February 14, 1895, in Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary. He leaves school at the age of 14 and works as farmer while also developing deep patriotic convictions. He is a member of the Gaelic League, and of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) from 1911 and the Irish Volunteers from 1913.

Treacy is picked up in the mass arrests following the Easter Rising in 1916. He spends much of the following two years in prison, where he goes on hunger strike on several occasions. In 1918, he is appointed Vice Officer-Commanding of the Third Tipperary Brigade of the Irish Volunteers, which becomes the Irish Republican Army in 1919.

On January 21, 1919, Treacy and Dan Breen, together with Seán Hogan, Séamus Robinson, and five other volunteers, help to ignite the conflict that is to become the Irish War of Independence. They ambush and shoot dead Constables Patrick MacDonnell and James O’Connell of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), who are guarding a transport of gelignite explosives, during the Soloheadbeg Ambush near Treacy’s home. Treacy leads the planning of the ambush and briefs the brigade’s OC Robinson on his return from prison in late 1918. Robinson supports the plans and agrees they will not go to GHQ for permission to undertake the attack.

As a result of the Soloheadbeg Ambush, South Tipperary is placed under martial law and declared a Special Military Area under the Defence of the Realm Act. After Soloheadbeg ambush party member Seán Hogan is arrested on May 12, 1919, Treacy, Breen, and Séamus Robinson are joined by five men from the IRA’s East Limerick Brigade to organise Hogan’s rescue. Hogan is brought to the train which is intended to take him from Thurles to Cork on May 13, 1919. As the train steams across the Tipperary border and into County Limerick, the IRA party boards the train in Knocklong. A close-range struggle ensues on the train. Treacy and Breen are seriously wounded in the gunfight and two RIC men die, but Hogan is rescued. His rescuers rush him into the village of Knocklong where a butcher cuts off his handcuffs using a cleaver.

A search for Treacy and the others is mounted across Ireland. Treacy leaves Tipperary for Dublin to avoid capture. In Dublin, Michael Collins employs Treacy on assassination operations with “the Squad“. In the summer of 1920, he returns to Tipperary and organises several attacks on RIC barracks before again moving his base of operations to Dublin.

By spring 1920 the political police of both the Crimes Special Branch of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and G-Division (Special Branch) of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) have been effectively neutalised by IRA counterintelligence operatives working for Michael Collins. The British thoroughly reorganise their administration at Dublin Castle and begin to import dozens of professional secret service agents from all parts of the British Empire into Ireland to track down IRA operatives and Sinn Féin leaders.

On October 11, 1920, Treacy and Breen are holed up in a safe house on the north side of Dublin when it is raided by a police unit. In the ensuing shootout, two senior British officers are wounded and die the next day while Treacy and Breen are wounded, Breen seriously. Treacy and Breen manage to escape through a window and shoot their way through the police cordon.

Treacy is discovered at the Republican Outfitters shop at 94 Talbot Street on October 14 a British Secret Intelligence Service surveillance team led by Major Carew and Lt. Gilbert Price. They are stalking him in hopes that he will lead them to Collins or to other high-value IRA targets. Treacy realises that he is being followed and runs for his bicycle but grabs the wrong bike, taking one that is far too big for him, and falls. Price draws his pistol and closes in on Treacy. Treacy draws his parabellum automatic pistol and shoots Price and another British agent before he is hit in the head, dying instantly.

Treacy is buried at Kilfeacle graveyard where, despite a large presence of British military personnel, a volley of shots are fired over the grave.


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Birth of Neil Blaney, Fianna Fáil Politician

Neil Terence Columba Blaney, Irish politician first elected to Dáil Éireann in 1948 as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) representing Donegal East, is born on October 1, 1922 in Fanad, County Donegal. He serves as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (1957), Minister for Local Government (1957–1966) and Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries (1966–1970). He is Father of the Dáil from 1987 until his death.

Blaney is the second eldest of a family of eleven. His father, from whom he got his strong republican views and his first introduction to politics, had been a commander in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Donegal during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. He is educated locally at Tamney on the rugged Fanad Peninsula and later attends St. Eunan’s College in Letterkenny. He later works as an organiser with the Irish National Vintners and Grocers Association.

Blaney is first elected to Dáil Éireann for the Donegal East constituency in a by-election in December 1948, following the death of his father from cancer. He also becomes a member of the Donegal County Council. He remains on the backbenches for a number of years before he is one of a group of young party members handpicked by Seán Lemass to begin a re-organisation drive for the party following the defeat at the 1954 general election. Within the party he gains fame by running the party’s by-election campaigns throughout the 1950s and 1960s. His dedicated bands of supporters earn the sobriquet “the Donegal Mafia,” and succeed in getting Desmond O’Malley and Gerry Collins elected to the Dáil.

Following Fianna Fáil’s victory at the 1957 general election, Éamon de Valera, as Taoiseach, brings new blood into the Cabinet in the shape of Blaney, Jack Lynch, Kevin Boland and Mícheál Ó Móráin. Blaney is appointed Minister for Posts and Telegraphs however he moves to the position of Minister for Local Government at the end of 1957 following the death of Seán Moylan. He retains the post when Lemass succeeds de Valera as Taoiseach in 1959. During his tenure it becomes possible to pay rates by installment and he also introduces legislation which entitles non-nationals to vote in local elections.

In 1966 Lemass resigns as Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader. The subsequent leadership election sees Cork politician Jack Lynch become party leader and Taoiseach. In the subsequent cabinet reshuffle Blaney is appointed Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries.

In 1969, when conflict breaks out in Northern Ireland, Blaney is one of the first to express strong Irish republican views, views which contradict the policy of the Irish Government, in support of Northern nationalists. From around late 1968 onwards, he forms and presides over an unofficial Nationalist group in Leinster House popularly known as “the Letterkenny Table.” The group is dominated by Blaney up until his death.

There is general surprise when, in an incident known as the Arms Crisis, Blaney, along with Charles Haughey, is sacked from Lynch’s cabinet amid allegations of the use of the funds to import arms for use by the IRA. Lynch asked for their resignations but both men refuse, saying they did nothing illegal. Lynch then advises President de Valera to sack Haughey and Blaney from the government. Haughey and Blaney are subsequently tried in court but are acquitted. However, many of their critics refuse to recognise the verdict of the courts. Although Blaney is cleared of wrongdoing, his ministerial career is brought to an end.

Lynch subsequently moves against Blaney so as to isolate him in the party. When Blaney and his supporters try to organise the party’s national collection independently, Lynch acts and in 1972 Blaney is expelled from Fianna Fáil for “conduct unbecoming.”

Following his expulsion from Fianna Fáil, Kevin Boland tries to persuade Blaney to join the Aontacht Éireann party he is creating but Blaney declines. Instead, he contests all subsequent elections for Independent Fianna Fáil – The Republican Party, an organisation that he built up. Throughout the 1970s there are frequent calls for his re-admittance to Fianna Fáil but the most vocal opponents of this move are Fianna Fáil delegates from County Donegal.

At the 1979 European Parliament elections Blaney tops the poll in the Connacht–Ulster constituency to the annoyance of Fianna Fáil. He narrowly loses the seat at the 1984 election but is returned to serve as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) in the 1989 election where he sits with the regionalist Rainbow Group. He also canvasses for IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election, in which Sands is elected to Westminster.

Blaney holds his Dáil seat until his death from cancer at the age of 73 on November 8, 1995 in Dublin.


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Death of Michael Flannery, Irish Republican Founder of NORAID

Michael Flannery, Irish republican who fought in the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, dies in New York City on September 30, 1994. He supports the Provisional Irish Republican Army during The Troubles and is a founder of NORAID.

Flannery is born in Cangort, near Brosna, on the border of County Offaly and County Tipperary, on January 7, 1903.

In 1916 Flannery joins the Irish Volunteers alongside his brother Peter, although he does not take part in the Easter Rising. However, he does participate in the Irish War of Independence. Following the outbreak of the Irish Civil War, he fights as part of the Anti-Treaty IRA until his capture by the National Army on November 11, 1922 in Roscrea, County Tipperary. He is imprisoned for nearly a year and a half in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison (C Wing). While there he witnesses the execution of Anti-Treaty IRA leaders Richard Barrett, Joe McKelvey, Liam Mellows and Rory O’Connor from his cell window. Following a 28-day hunger strike, he is placed in the Curragh Camp until May 1, 1924 when he is finally released, a full year after the end of the civil war.

In February 1927 Flannery immigrates to the United States, settling in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City. In 1928 he marries Margaret Mary Egan, a Tipperary-born research chemist, who had been educated at University College Dublin and University of Geneva.

Following the creation of Fianna Fáil and their entry into the Irish Parliament Dáil Éireann, Flannery becomes affiliated with Sinn Féin, who had voted to retain their abstentionist policy towards the Dáil and their refusal to acknowledge it as the legitimate government of Ireland. Sinn Féin tasks him with drumming up support for the party in New York. However, following the start of the Great Depression he finds it difficult to focus on politics in the face of mounting poverty. By 1933 finding support for Sinn Féin and the IRA becomes particularly tough when Fianna Fáil expands greatly the range of people eligible for military pensions, which under the previous government had been biased against members of the Anti-Treaty IRA. For the next 40 years Flannery works for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

Upon the onset of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, Flannery is once again drawn into the world of Irish Republicanism. In a response to the mounting violence, he sets up the Irish Northern Aid Committee, or as it became better known as, NORAID. The official purpose of NORAID is to provide funds to the families of imprisoned Irish Republicans and victims of violence. However, opponents level the accusation against the organisation that it is also providing funding directly to the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and perhaps even also supplying firearms.

In 1970 Flannery travels around America and sets up 62 chapters of NORAID. In 1971 he says, “The more coffins sent back to Britain, the sooner this will be all over,” referring to British soldiers.

In 1982 Flannery is indicted, with four other members of NORAID, for arms smuggling, but all defendants are acquitted after their legal defence is able to successfully argue their actions had been sanctioned the CIA.

Four months after the verdict of the arms trial, Flannery is named as Grand Marshal of the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City. His appointment causes considerable controversy within the Irish American community and several high profile figures boycott the parade that year, including the Archbishop of New York Terence Cooke.

In 1986 Flannery quietly resigns from NORAID following the decision by Sinn Féin to drop its abstentionist policy in the Republic of Ireland and to recognise Dáil Éireann as the legitimate governing body of Ireland.

Flannery opposes the Northern Ireland peace process, believing that Sinn Féin and the Provisionals have “sold out,” and believes the removal of British troops from Northern Ireland is the only starting point upon which negotiations can begin.

Flannery dies at the age of 92 in New York City on September 30, 1994. He is buried in Mount Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Flushing, Queens, New York.


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The Storming of Ballina

michael-kilroyDuring the Irish Civil War, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) under Michael Kilroy take Ballina, County Mayo, in a surprise attack on September 12, 1922 while the National Army troops there are at a Mass service for a comrade killed in the fighting.

In Mayo, Republicans organise themselves into Flying Columns of thirty-five men. The Columns are usually named after their Commanders such as Dr. John Madden in the West, Frank Carty in the Ox Mountains or Tom Carney in East Mayo. Each Column contains an explosives specialist, machine gunners, signalers, first aiders and riflemen. The field of operations is considerably wide. This causes considerable confusion among National Army Garrisons in the main towns of County Mayo. When they eventually reach the sites of ambushes, railways blown up or outposts attacked, the Republican Columns are long gone.

The Republicans also undertake large-scale operations such as “The Storming of Ballina” which occurs on Tuesday, September 12, 1922. The Republicans attack while the majority of the National Army Garrison is at a funeral Mass. Using a captured armoured car the Republicans fight their way through the town clearing key buildings as they go. A large mine is detonated at the town post office with the resulting shockwave throwing people through the air and shattering windows in the nearby streets. The Republicans celebrate their victory by relieving many of the shops of their goods. The Republicans then divide their forces in two. One Unit under Michael Kilroy heads west out towards Belmullet. The other Unit heads to a Republican HQ and supply dump at Lough Talt.

Brigadier-General Lawlor gathers all available National Army Forces in County Mayo for a counter strike against the Republicans. Two separate National Army Columns set out from Ballina. The first, under Brigadier-General Lawlor pursues the Republicans heading for Lough Talt. The Republicans fight a strong rearguard action through the Ox Mountains as they withdraw from Lough Talt. The fighting, which continues throughout the day, sees Lawlor wounded twice and one of Mayo’s own heroes of the War of Independence, Commandant-General Joe Ring, killed in action.

Meanwhile, Brigadier-General Neary leads a second National Army Column after General Kilroy’s retreating Column across north Mayo. Neary’s men run straight into a classic IRA ambush at Glenamoy. Six National Army troops are killed and many captured along with forty-five to fifty rifles. The National Army troops are in such a disheveled state Kilroy orders them fed and released. It is a valuable insight into the morale of the army facing the Republicans. Uniforms including underwear, boots and food are in short supply. Many have not been paid for weeks.

The Republican operations at Ballina, Lough Talt and Glenamoy boost their morale but leaves the National Army Commanders bitter and out for revenge. This bitterness is soon reflected in combat. National Army troops begin mixing ground glass with the gunpowder in their rifle rounds. In response, the Republicans began using “dum-dum” or expanding bullets.

(From: Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland, http://www.stairnaheireann.net, September 12, 2017 | Pictured: Michael Kilroy)


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The Founding of Fine Gael

fine-gael-logoFine Gael, a liberal-conservative political party in Ireland, is founded on September 8, 1933 following the merger of its parent party Cumann na nGaedheal, the National Centre Party and the National Guard, popularly known as the “Blueshirts.” The party’s origins lie in the struggle for Irish independence and the pro-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War. Michael Collins, in particular, is often identified as the founder of the movement.

Fine Gael is currently the third-largest party in Ireland in terms of members of Dáil Éireann and largest in terms of Irish members of the European Parliament. The party has a membership of 21,000 in 2017. Leo Varadkar succeeds Enda Kenny as party leader on June 2, 2017 and as Taoiseach on June 14. Kenny had been leader since 2002, and Taoiseach since 2011.

Fine Gael is generally considered to be more of a proponent of market liberalism than its traditional rival, Fianna Fáil. Apart from brief minority governments, Fine Gael has rarely governed Ireland without a coalition that also includes the Labour Party, a social-democratic, centre-left party. Fine Gael describes itself as a “party of the progressive centre” which it defines as acting “in a way that is right for Ireland, regardless of dogma or ideology.” The party lists its core values as “equality of opportunity, free enterprise and reward, security, integrity and hope.”

In international politics, Fine Gael is highly supportive of the European Union, along with generally supporting strengthened relations with the United Kingdom and opposition to physical force Irish republicanism. The party’s youth wing, Young Fine Gael, is formed in 1977, and has approximately four thousand members. Fine Gael is a founding member of the European People’s Party.

Having governed in coalition with the Labour Party between 2011 and 2016, and in a minority government along with Independent TDs from 2016 to 2020, Fine Gael currently forms part of an historic coalition government with its traditional rival, Fianna Fáil, and the Green Party. On June 27, 2020, Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil is appointed as Taoiseach and forms a new government. Leo Varadkar serves as Tánaiste with both parties agreeing that in December 2022, Varadkar will serve again as Taoiseach.


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Birth of Frank McCourt, Teacher & Writer

frank-mccourtFrancis “Frank” McCourt, Irish American teacher and writer, is born in New York City‘s Brooklyn borough on August 19, 1930.

McCourt is born to Malachy McCourt, Sr., who falsely claims to have been in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence, and Irish Catholic mother Angela Sheehan from Limerick. In the midst of the Great Depression, the family moves back to Ireland. Unable to find steady work in Belfast or Dublin and beset by his father’s alcoholism, the family returns to their mother’s native Limerick, where they sink even deeper into poverty.

In October 1949, at the age of 19, McCourt leaves Ireland, taking a boat from Cork to New York City. In 1951, he is drafted during the Korean War and sent to Bavaria for two years initially training dogs, then as a clerk. Upon his discharge from the US Army, he returned to New York City, where he held a series of jobs on docks, in warehouses, and in banks. Using his G.I. Bill education benefits, he talks his way into New York University by claiming he is intelligent and reads a great deal. He is admitted on one year’s probation provided he maintains a B average. He graduates in 1957 from NYU with a bachelor’s degree in English.

A New York city schoolteacher for more than thirty years, McCourt achieves literary fame later in life with his best-selling childhood memoir of the misery and squalor of his childhood, Angela’s Ashes. With a first printing of just 25,000 copies, the book becomes an instant favourite with critics and readers and is perhaps the ultimate case of the non-celebrity memoir, the extraordinary life of an ordinary man.

McCourt wins the annual Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography in 1997 and one of the annual National Book Critics Circle Awards for the book, which is eventually published in 25 languages and 30 countries. It is a bestseller and makes him a millionaire. Three years later, a movie version of Angela’s Ashes opens to mixed reviews with Northern Irish actor Michael Legge playing McCourt as a teenager.

McCourt is also the author of ‘Tis (1999), which continues the narrative of his life, picking up from the end of Angela’s Ashes and focusing on his life after returning to New York. He subsequently writes Teacher Man (2005) which details his teaching experiences and the challenges of being a teacher.

McCourt writes the book for a 1997 musical entitled The Irish…and How They Got That Way, which features an eclectic mix of Irish music – everything from the traditional Danny Boy to U2‘s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

It is announced in May 2009 that McCourt has been treated for melanoma and that he is in remission, undergoing home chemotherapy. On July 19, 2009, he dies from the cancer, with meningeal complications, at a hospice in Manhattan, New York City.


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Birth of Oliver Joseph St. John Gogarty

Oliver Joseph St. John Gogarty, Irish poet, author, otolaryngologist, athlete, politician, and well-known conversationalist, is born on August 17, 1878 in Rutland Square, Dublin. He serves as the inspiration for Buck Mulligan in James Joyce‘s novel Ulysses.

In 1887 Gogarty’s father dies of a burst appendix, and he is sent to Mungret College, a boarding school near Limerick. He is unhappy in his new school, and the following year he transfers to Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, England, which he likes little better, later referring to it as “a religious jail.” He returns to Ireland in 1896 and boards at Clongowes Wood College while studying for examinations with the Royal University of Ireland. In 1898 he switches to the medical school at Trinity College, having failed eight of his ten examinations at the Royal.

A serious interest in poetry and literature begins to manifest itself during his years at Trinity. In 1900 he makes the acquaintance of W. B. Yeats and George Moore and begins to frequent Dublin literary circles. In 1904 and 1905 he publishes several short poems in the London publication The Venture and in John Eglinton‘s journal Dana. His name also appears in print as the renegade priest Fr. Oliver Gogarty in George Moore’s 1905 novel The Lake.

In 1905 Gogarty becomes one of the founding members of Arthur Griffith‘s Sinn Féin, a non-violent political movement with a plan for Irish autonomy modelled after the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy.

In July 1907 his first son, Oliver Duane Odysseus Gogarty, is born, and in autumn of that year he leaves for Vienna to finish the practical phase of his medical training. Returning to Dublin in 1908, he secures a post at Richmond Hospital, and shortly afterwards purchases a house in Ely Place opposite George Moore. Three years later, he joins the staff of the Meath Hospital and remains there for the remainder of his medical career.

As a Sinn Féiner during the Irish War of Independence, Gogarty participates in a variety of anti-Black and Tan schemes, allowing his home to be used as a safe house and transporting disguised Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers in his car. Following the ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, he sides with the pro-Treaty government and is made a Free State Senator. He remains a senator until the abolition of the Seanad in 1936, during which time he identifies with none of the existing political parties and votes according to his own whims.

Gogarty maintains close friendships with many of the Dublin literati and continues to write poetry in the midst of his political and professional duties. He also tries his hand at playwriting, producing a slum drama in 1917 under the pseudonym “Alpha and Omega”, and two comedies in 1919 under the pseudonym “Gideon Ouseley,” all three of which are performed at the Abbey Theatre. He devotes less energy to his medical practice and more to his writing during the twenties and thirties.

With the onset of World War II, Gogarty attempts to enlist in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) as a doctor. He is denied on grounds of age. He then departs in September 1939 for an extended lecture tour in the United States, leaving his wife to manage Renvyle House, which has since been rebuilt as a hotel. When his return to Ireland is delayed by the war, he applies for American citizenship and eventually decides to reside permanently in the United States. Though he regularly sends letters, funds, and care-packages to his family and returns home for occasional holiday visits, he never again lives in Ireland for any extended length of time.

Gogarty suffers from heart complaints during the last few years of his life, and in September 1957 he collapses in the street on his way to dinner. He dies on September 22, 1957. His body is flown home to Ireland and buried in Cartron Church, Moyard, near Renvyle.

(Pictured: 1911 portrait of Oliver St. John Gogarty painted by Sir William Orpen, currently housed at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland)